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 Hill's Morning Report — Trump to GOP: I will carry you GOP strategist: Trump will be anchor around Republicans' necks in general election Trump: I ‘destroy' careers of Republicans who say bad things about me 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 TrumpDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Pawlenty loses comeback bid in Minnesota Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary 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 ClintonDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary Ironworker and star of viral video wins Dem primary for Speaker Ryan's seat 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 RubioDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary Florida questions Senate chairman over claim that Russians have ‘penetrated’ election systems 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 ShelbyRand Paul delivers Putin letter from Trump Senators privately met foreign allies to reassure them of NATO support Senate clears 4B ‘minibus’ spending measure 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 GrahamWhite House staff offered discounts at Trump's NJ golf club: report Graham: DOJ official was 'unethical' in investigating Trump campaign because his wife worked for Fusion GPS Sunday shows preview: Virginia lawmakers talk Charlottesville, anniversary protests 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 GardnerSenate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report When it comes to drone tech, wildfire officials need the rights tools for the job Rubio slams Google over plans to unveil censored Chinese search engine 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 McConnellHill.TV poll: Majority of Republicans say Trump best represents the values of the GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report Republican strategist: Trump is 'driven by ego' 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.