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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 StrangeTrump: 'I could pick a woman,' and she could be accused of misconduct Ann Coulter believes Kushner wrote anonymous op-ed bashing Trump Mulvaney: Trump regularly asks why Roy Moore lost 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 TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US 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 ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming 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 RubioThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump GOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia On The Money: Treasury official charged with leaking info on ex-Trump advisers | Trump to seek 5 percent budget cut from Cabinet members | Mnuchin to decide by Thursday on attending Saudi conference 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 ShelbyDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Florida politics play into disaster relief debate 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 GrahamThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure Trump rebukes Saudis, but also gives them more time 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 GardnerDemocrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die 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 McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan 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.