A scandal around sex with teenagers haunts the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and puts Trump’s party in a difficult situation.
When Beverly Young Nelson was 15 years old, she worked in a restaurant in the town of Gadsden, Alabama: Olde Hickory House. Almost every night, the same man sat at the bar. He complimented her on her looks, flirted with her and even wrote in her high school yearbook: “To a sweeter more beautiful girl, I could not say ‘Merry Christmas’.”
The man was Roy Moore, then a well-known public prosecutor, now the most important candidate to become a Republican senator in Washington. Beverly Young Nelson related at a press conference on Monday that in early 1978, Moore offered to drive her home. When she was in his car, he assaulted her. He touched her breasts and pushed her face towards his groin. She managed to escape. Before he drove away, Moore said, “If you tell anyone about this, no one will believe you.”
Stream of Stories about Moore
Beverly Young Nelson is the fifth woman in a few days who has come forward with stories about sexual abuse by Roy Moore. She is the second person to have experienced this as a minor. After an explosive story in The Washington Post, a stream of stories about Moore’s behavior has started.
The stories show great similarities: As a 30-year-old, he sought contact with girls and young women, after which he forced himself on them. The New Yorker writes that Moore was not allowed to enter the Gadsden Mall because he harassed girls there. He denies this, saying he’s never “dated” a girl “without the permission of her mother” and that “generally” he did not seek sexual contact with teenagers.
In the space of a few days, Moore, 70, has become politically contaminated; hardly any Republican still dares to support his campaign. On Dec.12, special elections will take place in Alabama to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell summoned Moore on Monday to cease his campaign, saying, “I believe the women.”
McConnell is supported by almost all Republican senators. Even a former ally like Ted Cruz says that the old judge needs to recuse himself. “Adult men normally do not sign high school girls’ yearbooks,” Cruz said.
But Moore is not leaving. He has a good chance of winning against Democrat, Doug Jones, in the deeply conservative state. Moore is making it into a battle of directions. Those who want him gone are the party elite. They have supposedly conspired with “the Obama-Clinton Machine.”
Moore claims to be executing Trump’s agenda. The president is an outsider, just like me, he says. During the Republican primaries, Trump supported Moore’s rival, but he openly sympathized with the ex-judge. Moore wanted to criminalize “homosexual behavior,” believed that 9/11 was a punishment from God and that Obama was not born in the U.S. He waved a revolver during a campaign meeting to support free possession of weapons.
Moore has received full support from Trump’s friend and former strategist Steve Bannon, who now heads the right-wing website, Breitbart. Bannon has sent reporters to Alabama to disprove the allegations against Moore. Also, influential Fox News host Sean Hannity supports him every night. But advertisers are starting to pull back, on top of which Republicans called for a boycott of a critical sponsor, the coffee brand Keurig. This made Hannity turn. He gave Moore an ultimatum to prove his innocence.
In Alabama, Moore is defended by prominent Republicans, like Jim Zeigler., who said, “.. take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
Consequences for National Politics
Moore has turned his isolation into a virtue and is taking advantage of the Trump sentiment. He has called for the resignation of party leader McConnell and thereby is using the anger among Republican constituents about the party leadership to his own advantage.
Chances are that the party needs to learn to live with Moore. There are few means to take an office away from an elected senator. Senators say that they can vote to remove Moore from the Senate; the last time this happened was in 1862. The New York Times reported on Monday that the White House is toying with the idea of having the Republican governor of Alabama refuse Moore’s seat ahead of time.
After that, Attorney General Sessions would have to take the seat he held for 20 years. This move would release Trump from a second problem: Sessions is not allowed to pry into the Russia file. For that reason, Trump often speculates about the resignation of Sessions. This solution would make the Russia investigation slightly less risky for Trump.
It is also possible that Moore might lose the election. The Democrat Doug Jones has taken the lead in some polls. If he wins, the Republican majority in the Senate will narrow further: 51 out of 100 seats. But for most Republicans in Washington, it’s worth it.