Establishment GOP conflicted over potential Moore win

Senior Republicans in Washington are unsure about what to do about Roy Moore now that it’s become clear that their attempts to oust him as the GOP nominee for Senate in Alabama have failed.

Some Republicans argue that it’s better for Moore to defeat Democrat Doug Jones for the sake of President Trump’s agenda, which would become imperiled if the Senate Republican majority fell from 52 seats to 51. 

Others, however, contend that it’s better longer-term for the party if he doesn’t come to the Senate. They see the prospect of losing a Republican seat to be a better option than the ongoing damage to the Republican brand Moore could create if he becomes a senator.

The dilemma was summed up Monday by senior White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, who told “Fox & Friends” that “no Senate seat is worth more than a child,” alluding to allegations of Moore’s sexual misconduct involving a 14-year-old girl.

In the same interview, though, Conway said “we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

Republicans have a narrow two-vote margin for error in the Senate, where they control 52 seats. One Republican, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump GOP senator: 'No problem' with Mueller testifying MORE (Maine), has already expressed serious misgivings about a provision in the tax bill to repeal ObamaCare’s individual mandate.

Alabama election officials say the results of the Dec. 12 special election likely won’t be certified until Dec. 26, which means Republicans could pass tax reform before the victor is seated in the Senate.

But given the complexity of the legislation, it’s possible the tax-reform package won’t be finished until after Christmas, just as the GOP’s earlier effort to repeal ObamaCare hit delay after delay.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions MORE (R-S.C.) said on “The Brian Kilmeade Show” on Fox News Radio that Moore’s loss “will make it really hard for us to do health care and anything else President Trump wants to do.”

“This Jones guy is not going to help us on anything that Trump wants to do,” he said of the Democratic candidate.

The prospect of a Democratic victory threatening the Trump agenda has provided some support to Moore’s campaign.

Moore’s lawyer, Phillip Jauregui, circulated a memo in his capacity as president of the Judicial Action Group, noting an uptick in speculation that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may retire.

In her statement of support for Moore last week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said a future vacancy on the Supreme Court was one of her top motivations. 

Yet Graham said he believes the accusations of women who say that Moore forced himself on them when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties.

“I think he’s a terrible nominee for the Republican Party,” Graham said. “There’s a story evolving here that has the ring of truth. It seems clear to me that Roy Moore had a problem for a very long time when it came to young girls.”

Moore has vehemently denied the allegations, while the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee dismissed them in a statement last week as “lies, slander, deceit and the politics of personal destruction.”

But that has failed to convince many Republicans in Washington. 

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Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Flake opens up about threats against him and his family MORE (R-Ariz.) was overheard on a live mic Saturday warning a friend in Arizona that the Republican Party is “toast” if it becomes the party of Moore and President Trump, who hasn’t called on Moore to withdraw from the race.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' MORE (R-Ky.) is in this camp. He’s worried that Moore could become an albatross for other Senate GOP candidates in 2018, just as former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was in 2012 when he coined the term “legitimate rape.”

McConnell remains staunchly opposed to Moore’s candidacy, even as Moore shows no signs of dropping out of the race and the Alabama Republican Party has made clear it won’t disqualify him as the nominee.   

McConnell’s leadership PAC, Bluegrass Committee, has demanded that Moore return the $5,000 check it gave him in early October after he beat Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force MORE (R-Ala.) in the Republican primary, according to a disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The request comes at a time when campaign spending could make or break the chances of Moore winning next month.

Jones is leading Moore, according to recent public polls, but he had been advertising uncontested on television for a month before The Washington Post broke its bombshell story on Nov. 9 about allegations of Moore’s sexual misconduct. 

Since then, Jones has spent about $805,000 on broadcast, cable and radio advertising, according to a source familiar with media buys in the state. 

Moore has spent only $64,000 during the same time span, according to the source.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which is closely allied with McConnell, terminated a joint fundraising agreement with Moore and has no plans to spend money on his race. 

An NRSC poll that leaked last week showed Jones leading Moore by 12 points, but strategists in both parties think the race is closer than that.

One Democratic operative said the poll “was designed to send a message” to Moore and state party officials in an effort to oust him as the nominee. 

The operative said “Jones has a challenging path to walk down” but the developments of the campaign have been very positive so far.

One Republican strategist close to the Senate GOP leadership said it’s better for the party if Moore loses the race, even though it would reduce the GOP majority to 51 seats.

“This is a case where it’s better to chew off your foot to save your leg,” said the source, who argued that supporting Moore’s election in order to advance Trump’s agenda “is very short-term thinking,” calling the allegations against Moore “very credible.”

“No legislative win is worth sacrificing the integrity of our political institutions, which is what you’d be doing by asking people to accept the legitimacy of this candidacy,” the strategist added.

But other Republicans argue that while the allegations of sexual misconduct are disappointing and distressing, it would be foolish to hamstring Trump’s agenda by hoping that Moore looses — or to actively withdraw support.

“They need a Republican in that seat and there are no two ways about. I think they’ll have to quietly support Roy Moore,” Brian Darling, a former Republican Senate aide, said of the GOP establishment in Washington. 

“He’s going to vote the right way when he comes to the Senate," Darling said of Moore. “That’s more important than these personal controversies, which are very discouraging.”

Darling doesn’t think other Republican candidates will get dragged down by a Republican victory in the Alabama Senate race.

“I don’t think the taint goes any further than Roy Moore,” he said, adding that Trump’s silence indicates that he’s more worried about getting his agenda accomplished at an historic — and possibly short-lived — moment of unified Republican control over government. 

“He’s got a bigger problem with agenda not being implemented,” he said.  

Another GOP strategist, who requested anonymity because he feared repercussions for talking about Moore, said Republicans should hope for his victory because it would enable them to keep the seat.

“If he wins, he’s going to be expelled,” the strategist said, noting that would pave the way for a new election that another Republican candidate could win. “If a Democrat is in that seat, that would be a problem for passing the president’s policies.”