November 13, 2017

11-13-2017 The 5-Minute Fix: What happens next in Alabama? (Washington Post)

The dam is breaking on Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

A growing number of Senate Republicans want him to drop out of his race a month before the election, convinced that he is more likely than not a child molester. “I believe the women,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday, days after offering a more cautious response to allegations that Moore had pursued four women while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Hours after McConnell’s remarks on Monday, a fifth woman accused Moore of trying to have a relationship with her when she was a teenager and he was a hotshot lawyer twice her age. Beverly Young Nelson didn’t just accuse Moore of pursuing her, she accused him of sexually assaulting her. “I was terrified. I thought he was going to rape me. At some point, he gave up,” she said, adding that she was willing to testify under oath to Congress.

What happens next in one of the most controversial Senate special elections in recent history? Honestly, no one knows. But here a few possibilities, ranked from least to most likely.

1. Moore drops out before the Dec. 12 election. Why is this ranked least likely? Because Moore has been defiant to his core. He has tried to frame these allegations in a way that fits neatly with his entire campaign: It’s the world vs. him.

2. Moore stays in the race and another Republican candidate, maybe interim senator Luther Strange (R-Ala.) or even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, launches a write-in campaign. Republican leaders in Washington say they are contemplating this idea very seriously. But Alabama voters have twice declined to pick Strange for the seat. And Sessions doesn’t seem interested in his old Senate seat right now. Plus, this could split the Republican vote and hand the election to Democrats.

3. Moore stays in the race. It’s very tough to tell at this point what the results will be. At least before Young Nelson’s allegations, Alabama political reporter Leada Gore said she felt as if Alabama voters had decided that Moore was the lesser of two evils: a flawed Republican vs. a pro-abortion-rights Democrat who could help Democrats flip the Senate.

“I’m not sure if the rural vote, which is 99.99 percent of Alabama, would leave Moore under almost any circumstances,” Gore said.

4. Moore stays in the race, wins, and the Senate expels him. I cannot believe this is one of the likelier options, but from my vantage point right now, it is. Senate rules say two-thirds of the chamber (today that means all 48 Democrats and at least 19 Republicans) must agree to kick out one of their own. It hasn’t been done since the Civil War.

But Republican leaders in Washington have made clear that they do NOT want Moore to be part of their ranks. Already three GOP senators have suggested or outright said they’d vote to expel him.

Why now?

One common Moore defense: Why are these decades-old accusations coming out now, a month before the election? Could it be politically motivated?

A political conspiracy decades in the making would be an extraordinary feat the likes of which is rarely seen in U.S. politics. There are two simpler answers to the “Why now?” question:

1. Moore is on the verge of becoming a national figure: Women who were initially reluctant to be publicly scrutinized said they felt they had to speak out, points out The Post’s Philip Bump. Suddenly, their accuser was on the verge of winning a U.S. Senate seat

“I’m not an angel,” Leigh Corfman told The Post when she finally shared her story.

2. It took until now to report the story. Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen heard whispers of Moore dating teens while in Alabama for an unrelated story. She spent weeks finding these women, getting them to talk, then corroborating their story as much as possible — down to the time of a court date four decades ago.

In terms of litigating sexual impropriety in the press, this story is as close to proof as the media can get. And that takes time.

This Alabama Senate race is nothing less than a battle for the soul of the GOP

On one side, explains The Fix’s Aaron Blake here, you have the Senate Republican establishment, which would rather lose a winnable Senate seat than be seen with an accused child molester.

On the other side, you have Moore and some Alabama Republican officials. Moore is accusing his party’s leaders of playing a role in the allegations.

While in Asia this week, President Trump has been kind of in the middle, giving cover to Moore but not taking a position on whether he should go.

The battle lines have been drawn, and next month’s election could be a defining moment for the party. If Alabama voters elect Moore, it would be a clear indication that the GOP establishment’s power to influence its own voters is extremely diminished.

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