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David Usborne: It is a game of sorts
December 11, 2017
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For Donald Trump little is out of bounds. Abandoning all pretence of being a fair broker in the Middle East and retweeting anti-Muslim bigotry carry no obvious penalty. Nor apparently does backing a Senate candidate accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct. That would be the pony-riding, Psalm-thumping, hypocrisy-oozing Roy Moore of Alabama.

Until now, at least, there has only been reward for Trump and the people who think like him. They delight in making critics gasp and hold their heads in dismay. It is a game of sorts. Provoke a reaction from the other side — not just Democrats and progressives but also so-called establishment members of their own party — and then ridicule them for their political correctness.

Democrats just forced Senator Al Franken to resign after his own record of gross behaviour towards women came to light. It isn’t clear that his sins rose to the level of those Moore is accused of but their swift dispatching of him is meant to give them the high ground in battling the Republicans, particularly in next year’s midterm congressional elections. But if occupying the low ground continues to work for Trump and his allies, will it matter? Well let’s see.

Election day in the Alabama Senate race is this Tuesday and there are many reasons why the outcome will matter very much. Moore, who was twice ejected in disgrace from his seat on the Alabama Supreme Court, should be a shoo-in. A deep-red state, Alabama went to Trump last year by a margin of 24 points. But thanks to the sex scandal hovering over him, Moore, who has denied all the allegations made against him, is now neck and neck with his Democrat challenger, Doug Jones, a former District Attorney.

The thought of him joining their club makes Republicans in Washington shudder, but with a Senate majority of just two they can’t afford for him to lose. In turn, Democrats, having booted Franken, need a boost now more than ever. He will be replaced by a Democrat in the interim, but a special election must now happen next November in Minnesota. They might lose it.

Yet we are interested in Alabama for more feral reasons. We want to know whether it is really possible for a state that calls itself not just conservative, but conservative in the evangelical tradition, to vote for a man like Moore? Recall that the women accusing him were teenagers when they said they suffered his sexual advances and he was in his early thirties. Last week we learned he started dating his wife, Kayla, before she was done divorcing her first husband. That might not bother most. But Moore’s first expulsion from the Supreme Court was for illegally erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments in the courtyard of the state judicial building.

But the Alabama vote will be pivotal above all because it will test the limits of the political warcraft as practised by Trump and also by Stephen Bannon, his former top advisor who since leaving the White House has declared war on the party establishment, throwing his support behind Moore early on and others who might oust party titans in the midterms next November. When the allegations against Moore first came to light, Trump’s reaction was tepid but not outrageous. If there was truth in them, he should withdraw, he said. But that didn’t last long. He finally endorsed him fully at the start of last week. On Friday, he did it again in a tweet, casting Jones as a puppet of the Democrats’ top leaders on the Hill, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

“LAST thing the Make America Great Again Agenda needs is a Liberal Democrat in Senate where we have so little margin for victory already,” he wrote on his Twitter feed. “The Pelosi/Schumer Puppet Jones would vote against us 100 per cent of the time. He’s bad on Crime, Life, Border, Vets, Guns & Military. VOTE ROY MOORE!”

This would seem an egregious stand to take for any serving president, who is meant to offer an example moral rectitude. But then this is a president who himself stands accused by a bevy of women of inappropriate sexual advances and who uttered the phrase “grab them by the pussy” on tape. Given that, you’d think he might shy away from Moore. Yet Friday saw him holding a rally in Pensacola. That’s in Florida, not Alabama, but it’s so close to the border it might as well have been a rally for Moore. Plenty of Alabama folk watch the Pensacola TV channels.

Trump even corrupted the rest of his party. For a few weeks it stood sort of tall, refusing to provide the usual financial help for Moore’s campaign. Senate leaders like Mitch McConnell openly said they believed the women accusers and urged him to withdraw. There was talk that, were he to win, he would be ejected by his Republican colleagues almost as soon as he arrived. All that has now evaporated. The cash to him is flowing from the Republican National Committee. McConnell said the fate of his campaign should be left to Alabama voters.

Well, fine. How this race turns out depends in part, of course, on Jones. His greatest challenge in the waning days of the campaign is to energise African Americans in Alabama, who account for more than a quarter of its registered voters. But in the end, it is the vast majority of Alabamans who have always voted Republican who must examine their consciences. They have a duty, not just to reject Moore and show the respect his accusers deserve but to send a message to Trump and his allies that taking the low road isn’t funny anymore. And it won’t work.

The Independent

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