GOP rushes to cut ties to Moore

Republicans are rushing to cut ties with Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-Ala.) as fears mount that the disturbing allegations against him will tarnish the party’s brand and imperil other GOP candidates running for office.

Moore has denied the bombshell allegations laid out in a Washington Post story, in which three women went on the record to claim that he courted them as teenagers while he was an attorney in his 30s. One woman said that Moore molested her when she was 14 years old.

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Republicans are calling on Moore to drop out of the race even though the GOP wouldn’t be able to get another candidate on the ticket to run against Democrat Doug Jones before the Dec. 12 election. Moore says he will not drop out of the race and is still considered the favorite to win in deep-red Alabama.

Nationally, Republicans are worried that Moore will be a drag on a party that already faces stiff electoral headwinds as they seek to keep a majority in the House in 2018.

For as long as he is in the race, and especially if he is elected, Democrats say they will tie the allegations against Moore and his past controversial remarks on race and gay marriage to all Republicans running for office.

Some Republicans are comparing the Moore problem to the one the party faced in 2012, when former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and former Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock made comments about rape during their Senate campaigns that dogged the party throughout the election cycle.

“We all saw what happened with Akin and Mourdock in 2012, where their comments caused issues for the entire party,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP operative and veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “This is a bigger scandal that will force Republicans across the country to distance themselves from him. That will continue until he drops out. If he gets elected, then we have another problem.”

In the immediate aftermath of the revelations, many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress had a good couple of weeks — now let's keep it going McCarthy: 'The Mueller investigation has got to stop' McConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' MORE (R-Ky.), declared that Moore should exit the race if the allegations against him are true.

It quickly became clear that that response would not be sufficient and that Republicans would remain vulnerable to Moore doing reputational damage to their party until they rejected him entirely.

“Hiding behind 'if true' is a disgraceful and gutless response to the serious reports of Roy Moore’s sexual assaults,” said Allison Teixeira Sulier, the spokesperson for the liberal opposition research group American Bridge. “Republicans are showing their true colors once again by enabling a sexual predator in the name of partisan politics and it's disgusting to watch. Voters are going to hold the entire party accountable.”

By Friday, the urgency to rid the party of Moore’s presence intensified, with establishment Republicans like Romney and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDonald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing The Memo: Trump’s media game puts press on back foot Meghan McCain shreds Giuliani for calling Biden a 'mentally deficient idiot' MORE (R-Ariz.) saying unequivocally that he needs to drop out of the race.

“This cannot be who we are,” tweeted Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeDHS secretary defends Trump administration's migrant policies White House faces growing outcry over migrant family policies GOP senators push for clarification on migrant family separations MORE (R-Ariz.), a first-term senator who has been vocal about his misgivings with the direction the party is headed in the age of President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE.

Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel Kinzinger‘Stingray’ spying prompts fears about surveillance FBI head warns against Trump deal with ZTE GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team MORE (R-Ill.) suggested in a Friday interview on CNN that the Senate could expel Moore if he wins the elections. That would require a two-thirds vote in the upper chamber.

Republicans running in Democratic or swing-districts, like Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockRNC mum on whether it will support Trump-backed Corey Stewart The Hill's Morning Report — Ryan dodges disaster on immigration Trump loyalty tests, surging number of women winners defines Tuesday's election results MORE (R-Va.) and Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's 12:30 Report Few voice support after House GOP releases 293-page DACA bill GOP immigration compromise faces more hurdles in House MORE (R-Fla.), condemned Moore and demanded he drop out of the race.

“This man is despicable and should step down,” Curbelo tweeted.

Comstock faces reelection in a district Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThere are many unanswered questions about FBI culture FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts offers to testify on Capitol Hill Giuliani wants 'full and complete' investigation into Russia probe's origins MORE carried by 10 points and in a state where Democrats won sweeping electoral victories from the governor’s mansion down on Tuesday. Clinton carried Curbelo’s district by 16 points and the Florida Republican is a perennial target for Democrats.

In a Friday interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Moore called the allegations “completely false and misleading.”

He denied ever coming into contact with the 14-year-old girl. Moore did not deny dating girls that were under 18 — which is legal in Alabama — but said he does not remember “specific dates” and that being romantically involved with a teenager while he was in his 30s would be “out of my customary behavior.” 

Moore has his defenders, who have called into question why the women in the story would remain silent for decades and only tell their stories weeks before the election.

Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, who backed Moore in the primary against Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeLoyalty to Donald Trump is new normal for the Republican Party In GOP primaries, Trump can hurt someone, but can he help? Trump loyalty tests, surging number of women winners defines Tuesday's election results MORE (R-Ala.), blamed the media. Bannon and his allies believe the controversy will pass, noting that Trump won the presidential election despite Republicans abandoning him in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape that caught him making lewd remarks about grabbing women.

“'The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore,” he told an audience in New Hampshire on Thursday night. “Now is that a coincidence? That's what I mean when I say [the media is the] opposition party, right? It's purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party. They don't make any bones about it.”

In Alabama, state and local officials are firing back at what they view as elite media and Washington politicians in a frenzy to take down one of their own. 

“[Alabamians] don’t take kindly to people from outside our state coming down here and telling us what we should do,” said Alabama Republican strategist Jonathan Gray.

But national Republicans are worried about the consequences of Moore staying in the race and potentially getting elected.

One former high-level GOP aide said Moore would “absolutely” hurt the party’s brand and that he was certain to be used in Democratic attack ads against Republican candidates.

A Harvard-Harris survey released last month found the GOP's approval rating is at an all-time low of 29 percent, while Democrats are at 39.

“That could be a floor [for Republicans] given the current hyper-partisan environment,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.

Republicans don’t want to find out how much lower they can go.

“I felt like in 2012, Republicans were afraid to say Akin was [wrong]. We’re in this era now where I think a lot of Republicans are willing to say it now,” said a national Republican strategist.

“I'm worried, but this is an opportunity to show a majority of Americans that the Republican Party does not stand for pedophilia and all these bigoted comments that he stands for.”

Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen contributed