Dems look to use Moore against GOP

New support for embattled Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore from President Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC) could mean trouble for GOP candidates across the country in 2018. 

Democrats are already targeting top GOP nominees in pivotal Senate battles about Moore, questioning whether they stand by the RNC’s decision to back Moore financially after allegations that he pursued teenage girls decades ago, when he was in his 30s.

Meanwhile, moderate Republicans are sounding alarms about the impact backing someone accused of sexual assault could have on the national Republican brand.

“All things being equal, the Republican Party has set itself up for a wave election in 2018,” said GOP strategist Rick Tyler, an outspoken Trump critic.

“The seduction is now complete,” he said. “The GOP made a deal with the devil back in 2016 — the problem with making a deal with the devil is that the devil is always going to change the terms. The deal now has been changed to where the Republican Party is endorsing accused child molesters for public office. And I think that may be irreparable.”

Top Republican leaders in Washington have spent the past month — since a woman said in a Washington Post report that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 and he was 32 — wrestling with how to handle Moore.

Key Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) head Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans interested in Romney leading NRSC: report Overnight Finance: Mnuchin promises new Russia sanctions after uproar | Dow drops ahead of Trump State of the Union | GOP senators call on Trump to protect NAFTA | Regulators subpoena major bitcoin exchange Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Colo.), initially called on Moore to drop out of the race. The RNC and NRSC, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, both cut fundraising ties with Moore.

As more allegations piled on, including a woman saying Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16, some senators began considering expelling Moore if he won.

But with many of the latest polls showing Moore regaining his lead on Democratic candidate Doug Jones, who has trounced him in fundraising, many Republicans are changing course ahead of the Dec. 12 special election.

After days of focusing his criticism on Jones, Trump finally gave Moore a full-throated endorsement on Twitter on Monday and called the Alabama Republican from Air Force One to offer his support.

Trump had already planned a Florida rally on Friday, just 20 miles from the Alabama border. Now that the endorsement is official, Trump can be even more overt in his support.

The RNC followed the president’s lead on Monday night, reinstating its support for Moore with plans to fundraise for the Alabama GOP. In the final fundraising report before the election, Jones hauled in more than $10.1 million, compared to Moore, who only brought in about $1.7 million.

McConnell also softened his stance over the weekend, arguing that Alabama voters should decide if Moore should be in the Senate.

The NRSC hasn’t reinstituted its fundraising agreement with Moore’s campaign, but the RNC’s decision to back Moore means that he once again has the national party’s blessing. Democrats have been quick to seize on Republican support for Moore, hoping to use it as an issue against Republican candidates outside of Alabama.

The campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGovernment watchdog finds safety gaps in assisted living homes GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races McCaskill challenger links human trafficking to 'sexual revolution' of 1960s MORE (D-Mo.) moved quickly Tuesday to call on her challenger, state Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), to tell Missouri voters where he stands on Moore.

McCaskill, whose state backed Trump by nearly 20 points in 2016, is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators on the ballot in 2018. Hawley is seen as a top GOP recruit.

In Pennsylvania, the state’s Democratic Party is using a similar tactic. Democrats called on Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaGOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races House GOP highlights 16 ‘On the Radar’ candidates GOP Senate candidate gave interview to publication that promotes Holocaust denial: report MORE (R-Pa.), a Trump ally who’s expected to win the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDem senator: Pence all 'talk, no action' GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races Overnight Health Care: Senate Dems block 20-week abortion ban | Azar sworn in as HHS chief | Dems demand answers on family planning funds | GOP takes sting out of ObamaCare MORE Jr. (D), to say whether he agrees with Trump’s endorsement of Moore and if he’ll accept money from the RNC.

Democrats in Wisconsin followed a similar script, connecting the field of Republican candidates to Moore and the RNC’s decision.

Republican candidates in GOP primaries are facing their own questions about Moore.

While Utah’s Senate seat will likely remain in GOP hands whether or not Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Tech: Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up hack | Apple considers battery rebates | Regulators talk bitcoin | SpaceX launches world's most powerful rocket Overnight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach Hatch introduces bipartisan bill to clarify cross-border data policies MORE (R-Utah) retires in 2018, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who’s reportedly eyeing a bid for the seat if Hatch retires, has taken a hard-line stance on Moore.

Hatch, on the other hand, defended Trump’s endorsement of Moore on Monday while returning from an event in Utah with the president on Air Force One. Trump has urged Hatch to run for reelection, reportedly as a way to block Romney.

Danny Tarkanian, the Republican Senate hopeful looking to unseat Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHeller campaign slams GOP rival over six-figure nonprofit salary Juan Williams: Help Trump climb down from the wall GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races MORE (R-Nev.), used Moore to jab his opponent from the right. While Heller joined calls for Moore to step down if the allegations were proven true, Tarkanian issued a statement last month backing Moore.

When a CNN reporter asked Heller on Tuesday if he agrees with Romney’s sharp criticism of Moore, the GOP senator dodged the question.

While individual Democrats try to take advantage of the Moore controversy, Democrats nationally want to use it to portray Republicans as selling out their values for a Senate seat.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), House Democrats’ campaign arm, called in a Tuesday statement for House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money MORE (R-Wis.) to “do the right thing now or explain to voters later why standing with Washington Republicans was more important than standing up to a child molester.”

Jesse Ferguson, a former top aide to the DCCC, told The Hill that Republican candidates would individually have to answer for their party’s support of Moore. But he added that attacking Republicans on Moore also lets Democrats portray the GOP as putting Trump and his wishes above morality.

“For voters who have concerns about President Trump, the fact that the Republican Party threw their principles overboard in order to do what the president demanded is a stark reminder for voters that Republicans in Congress’s top priority is President Trump,” Ferguson said.

That conversation could be particularly salient with female voters, GOP strategists said, especially as Americans reconcile with the growing cultural conversation about sexual harassment.

The GOP presidential ticket did far better with women than many expected in 2016, despite the harassment allegations against Trump levied during the campaign. But recent polls have shown Democrats widening their lead among female voters, a key voting bloc in Democratic wins across Virginia last month.

Democrats hope that top Republicans’ support for Moore will help them build on that success with female voters.

“There was clearly a disconnect with Hillary and white, educated female voters. I don’t think that disconnection was necessarily a full embrace of Trump and all the baggage he brought to the conversation,” Former RNC chairman Michael Steele told The Hill.

“It’s a misguided calculation to think that those women are still going to be, after we’ve seen this year and particularly over the last few weeks, where the party has seemingly endorsed pedophilia and is much more inclined to believe the man accused of those actions rather than the women who are the victims,” he said.

For Trump and his GOP allies, the calculus is clear — a vote for Moore gives the party another Republican to help support the president’s agenda. They hope Moore’s vote will help achieve more Republican legislative victories that candidates can point to in 2018.

“I think he’s going to do very well. We don’t want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me. We want strong borders, we want stopping crime, we want the things we represent,” Trump said Tuesday about Moore.

But other Republicans, including Tyler, believe the gamble on Moore could be disastrous for the GOP and Trump, even if Moore wins.

“Saying that Roy Moore is unfit, and then saying he’s worth a tax vote is the worst kind of hypocrisy. They may have a short-term win here and get a vote, but I think they’ll pay for it in 2018,” he said, adding that the House and Senate majorities could be in play in the midterms.

“If Trump thinks he has problems now, he can’t imagine what kind of problems he would have with a [Democratic] majority with subpoena power.”