President Trump is set to play a decisive role in the Republican battle over Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore — if he chooses to do so.
Trump, who so far has declined to directly address the allegations against Moore, is facing pressure from both sides.
Senate Republicans signaled on Monday that they want nothing to do with Moore and will work to prevent his seating, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying he believed Moore’s accusers.
Key parts of Trump’s political base, however, are sticking with the former chief justice of Alabama’s state Supreme Court. Breitbart News and Trump’s former White House strategist and political guru Stephen Bannon are both fighting for Moore, who remains the favorite in Alabama — a state Trump won in last year’s election by 28 points.
Trump’s instincts would also appear to guide him toward Moore — despite the fact that he campaigned for the conservative’s GOP opponent in the Republican primary.
“The challenge here is that Trump usually goes against what the establishment wants,” said a GOP strategist with close ties to the White House and Senate leadership.
Trump sided with McConnell in the GOP primary, where Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange. Moore won days after Trump campaigned in Alabama on behalf of Strange and against the Bannon-backed Moore.
Yet Trump’s embrace of Strange was hardly strong, either.
The president openly said at the event in Huntsville, Ala., that he might have been making a mistake in traveling to campaign in Alabama for Strange.
“If Luther doesn’t win they’re not going to say, we picked up 25 points in a short period of time,” Trump said.
And he said that if Moore won, he’d be “campaigning like hell for him.”
That, at least, seems like an impossibility given the allegations that Moore, at the age of 32 in 1979, had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old.
On Monday, the controversy surrounding Moore deepened as a new accuser came forward alongside attorney Gloria Allred — who has represented dozens of women who have brought charges of sexual harassment or assault against famed men, including Trump. Beverly Young Nelson said Moore sexually assaulted her one night after work when she was 16 years old.
Moore had offered to give her a ride home after her shift at a local diner upon noticing that her boyfriend was running late to pick her up, according to Nelson’s account.
But instead of driving her home, Nelson said he parked the car at the back of the restaurant, where “there were no lights,” and began groping her.
“I was alarmed and I immediately asked him what he was doing,” she said at a press conference.
“Instead of answering my question, Mr. Moore reached over and began groping me,” she said, adding that Moore reached over and locked the car door while she yelled at him to stop and continued to try to fight him off.
Moore then grabbed her neck and pushed her head toward his crotch, she said.
“I was terrified. He was also trying to pull my shirt off. I thought that he was going to rape me. … I had tears running down my face,” she said.
Nelson said Moore eventually gave up and threatened that no one would believe her story. She said she kept quiet for fear he would retaliate.
Moore’s campaign released a statement maintaining his innocence and blasting Allred.
“Gloria Allred is a sensationalist leading a witch hunt, and she is only around to create a spectacle,” Moore’s Senate campaign chairman Bill Armistead said in a statement.
“We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone,” he added.
It’s possible Allred’s entry into the Alabama story could push Trump toward Moore.
The worst thing for the establishment, one GOP source said, was that Allred convened Monday’s press conference.
“Trump hates Gloria Allred after what she did to him during the election. So I don’t know. You could see him siding with Bannon against the establishment crowd, but maybe his tripwire in going against what Bannon is pushing for is the fact that kids are involved. I don’t know. It’s not good.”
Some Trump supporters say it makes sense for the White House to keep its powder dry on Moore’s candidacy, while at the same time distancing itself from the Senate candidate.
“This is a no-win situation and the worst thing the White House could do is take ownership of the situation,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump adviser. “You just have to express publicly the seriousness of the charges and allow Alabama voters to make their choice.”
Notably, the Republican National Committee, which is closely aligned with Trump, had not cut ties with Moore as of Monday evening.
If additional accusers come forward, it could close off any viable path to victory for Moore and force him from the race while saving Trump from wading into a nasty intraparty fight.
Trump’s own past battles over reports of misconduct also could play into his thinking.
The president survived the “Access Hollywood” scandal involving his past lewd remarks about women just a month before Election Day 2016. Multiple women then came forward accusing Trump of sexual assault, allegations that the president has denied. If Trump came down hard on Moore, it could open the president up to charges of hypocrisy.
Bannon and his allies are aggressively seeking to tamp down the controversy around Moore by discrediting his accusers and suggesting that Democrats or establishment Republicans are behind the attacks.
“I think there’s going to be some pretty interesting stories about how that information got dropped and who paid for it and who weaponized it,” Bannon said in a speech to The Citadel Republican Society over the weekend.
Moore is already fundraising off that notion.
“According to sources, establishment Republicans are colluding with the Obama-Clinton Machine behind-the-scenes in a desperate effort to sabotage my campaign and keep me out of Washington,” Moore wrote in a campaign mailer that was sent out with the subject line: “McConnell’s dirty plot to destroy me.”
The White House was quiet about the story on Monday, but remarks the day before on NBC’s “Meet the Press” from legislative director Marc Short reflected the tightrope it has sought to walk so far.
Short said that “no Senate seat is more important than the notion of child pedophilia.”
But he also praised Moore as “somebody who graduated from West Point, he served our country in Vietnam, he’s been elected multiple times statewide in Alabama.”
“The people in Alabama know Roy Moore better than we do here in D.C., and I think we have to be very cautious … of allegations that are 40 years old that arise a month before Election Day,” Short said.
Source: The Hill (JONATHAN EASLEY AND JORDAN FABIAN)
Photo Credit: Splice Today
Photo Credit: The Americana
Photo Credit: The Hill/Greg Nash