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The Memo: Many in GOP are rooting against their own candidate

The Memo: Many in GOP are rooting against their own candidate
© Keren Carrion

Many Republicans are hoping that the GOP candidate loses Alabama’s Senate race on Tuesday.

A huge swath of the GOP is deeply concerned that Roy Moore could wreak carnage if he emerges as the winner over Democrat Doug Jones in one of the most controversial special elections in recent years.

Asked if it would be better for the party if Moore loses, Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee, replied, “I think so.”

Heye said Republican candidates throughout the country will have to explain or defend Moore’s controversies if he becomes a senator.

“There is virtually no other state where, in a general election, the question ‘how close to Roy Moore are you?’ is a good one for a Republican candidate,” Heye added. 

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Moore has been accused of having a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old, as well as other allegations of inappropriate interest in teenage girls. Moore denies all such wrongdoing.

The former state Supreme Court judge, who defeated incumbent Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Trump Presidency: Year One Dems search for winning playbook Stephen Bannon steps down from Breitbart MORE in a September primary, also has a history of controversial remarks, including falsely suggesting that former President Obama was not born in the United States, and asserting that there is a link between drive-by shootings and the teaching of evolution in schools.

In September, when an African-American man at a rally asked Moore what President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE meant by his signature promise to “Make America Great Again,” Moore replied that it was “great at a time when families were united — even though we had slavery. They cared for one another.” 

Despite all of the furors, Moore is a slight favorite to win Tuesday’s election. Alabama is a deeply conservative state where Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE by almost 30 points last November.

In the RealClearPolitics average, Moore was leading by 2.2 percentage points as of Monday afternoon. 

But there is enormous volatility in the polling, perhaps pointing to how difficult it is to predict turnout. The most recent three major polls have indicated a Moore lead of 9 points, a Jones lead of 10 points and a tie.

Meanwhile, Trump has also grown more and more emphatic in his backing of Moore. 

“We can’t have a Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Democrat, Jones, in that important Alabama Senate seat,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Need your vote to Make America Great Again! Jones will always vote against what we must do for our Country.”

Trump held a rally in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday evening, just across the state line from Alabama and in a media market shared by many Alabamians. 

Trump has also recorded a robocall for Moore.

In addition, Moore has received the vigorous backing of Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist.

To the Bannonite wing of the party, the Alabama race is yet another battle in the broader war for the soul of the Republican Party. 

While many Washington Republicans see Moore as unelectable and dangerous to the GOP’s reputation, Bannon’s supporters counterpunch, suggesting the establishment is divorced from grass-roots supporters of the party. 

“Roy Moore is a rejection of those same Republicans,” said Andy Surabian, a close Bannon ally and a senior adviser for a pro-Trump outside group, Great America Alliance. “They say he is a stain. But he beat them, so what does it say about them?”

Others, however, argue that Bannon’s influence is overstated, even if the fissures within the party are all too real.

“I think Bannon is a bit of an opportunist and Moore was going to win the primary before Bannon got involved,” said GOP strategist Alex Conant, who worked for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioColbert: Students taking action on gun violence 'give me hope' Lawmakers feel pressure on guns Florida lawmaker's aide fired after claiming shooting survivors were 'actors' MORE’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign. “If Moore wins, Bannon will have very little to do with it, too. If he wins, it is going to be because there aren’t very many Democrats in Alabama.”

The question of whether he will win remains up in the air.

In a significant intervention over the weekend, the incumbent Republican senator in Alabama, Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCornyn: We'll need at least one more stopgap funding bill Moore supporters fire back at Richard Shelby Disaster aid becomes hostage to funding fight MORE, on Sunday reiterated that he had written-in the name of another GOP figure on his early ballot. Shelby said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Republicans “can do better” than Moore.

The chorus of opposition among Republicans is large and loud. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.) told CNN on Monday that, if Moore were elected, it would amount to “the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats.”

Last week, Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe siren of Baton Rouge Senate confirms John Demers to head DOJ national security division Senate rejects bipartisan measure as immigration votes begin MORE (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told The Weekly Standard that his group would “never endorse” Moore. “I won’t let that happen,” he added.

To Surabian, though, such establishment voices confuse their own priorities with those of Republican voters. “Roy Moore isn’t a threat to the Republican majority. He’s a threat to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE’s majority,” he said.

Still, Republicans nationwide will be watching the results Tuesday night with frayed nerves and many acknowledge that there is no good outcome.

“It’s a lose-lose, either way,” said Conant. “You hate to have another Democrat in the Senate but Roy Moore will create huge and immediate problems for the Republican Party if he is elected to federal office.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.