Will Republicans Send an Accused Child Molester to the Senate?

A scandal breaks, and a door opens to a Democrat in Alabama's Senate race

Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, pictured on October 31st, has been accused of abusing a 14-year-old when he was 32. Credit: Tom Williams/Getty

Roy Moore, the Republican Senate nominee in Alabama, has been accused in The Washington Post article of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 – and an assistant district attorney. Will the party that rode Donald "grab 'em by the pussy" Trump to the presidency stand by an accused child molester as he runs for Senate?

Here's what you need to know.

What's the allegation?
Leigh Corfman recounted to The Post that Moore separated her from her mother at an Etowah County courthouse in 1979, getting her phone number. Moore, she alleged, later drove her to his house, and during one encounter undressed the 14-year-old to her underwear, fondling her, before placing her hand on his bulge, under "tight white" underwear. The age of consent in Alabama was, and is, 16. The Post also interviewed three other named women who said the adult Moore pursued them sexually when they were teenagers. The detailed Post report is "based on interviews with more than 30 people."

Moore responded in a statement published by Breitbart: "These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign." Moore later cast himself as a righteous victim, tweeting, "The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal – even inflict physical harm – if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me," and even attempted to fundraise off the allegations.

Who is Roy Moore?
Moore is the Republican candidate to fill the seat vacated by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions; the special election is scheduled for December 18th. Now 70, Moore was already a lightning rod in Republican and national politics. He was twice elected to chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and twice ousted from that post – first for defying a federal order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments, and again for demanding state judges enforce Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage, which had been ruled unconstitutional.

Out of office, Moore has been no less controversial: He has attributed both 9/11 and the Sandy Hook shooting to America's declining godliness. In 2005, he said "homosexual conduct should be illegal"; just this week he declared "the transgenders don't have rights." Moore has railed against (nonexistent) "communities under Sharia law right now in our country" and wrote in 2006 that Rep. Keith Ellison should be denied his House seat because of his Muslim faith. During his primary, Moore recklessly brandished a revolver on stage at a campaign rally.

Why does he matter?
Moore has been embraced as an avatar of the Republican Party's new populism. His Senate bid has been backed to the hilt by former Trump presidential adviser Steve Bannon, who has returned to Breitbart. After Moore's primary triumph, Bannon said he heralded a "revolution" in Republican politics: "You are going to see, in state after state after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore." Trump himself had backed Moore's opponent in the primary, but quickly made friends with his fellow birther after the election. "Spoke to Roy Moore of Alabama last night for the first time," Trump tweeted in late September. "Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to #MAGA!" Moore has also been embraced by more establishment Washington figures urging party unity – including Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

What's the fallout from the Post exposé?
So far just one Republican has unequivocally called on Moore to withdraw from the race. Arizona Sen. John McCain, tweeted, "The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of."

Several other Republicans have couched a similar demand in conditional terms – "if" the allegations (in the scrupulously documented Washington Post piece) are true:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: "If these allegations are true, he must step aside."

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski: "I'm horrified, and if it's true he should step down immediately."

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: "If that's true, I don't believe there'd be any place for him in the United States Senate."

South Dakota Sen. John Thune: "The allegations, if true, to me mean he needs to step aside."

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman: "If what we read is true, and people are on the record so I assume it is, then he should step aside."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: "These are serious and troubling allegations. If they are true, Judge Moore should immediately withdraw. However, we need to know the truth, and Judge Moore has the right to respond to these accusations."

What happens next
Although Moore can withdraw, it is too late under Alabama law for his name to be taken off the ballot. A number of Republicans are talking up a write-in campaign for the man who lost to Moore in the primary – interim Sen. Luther Strange. But Moore, who has shown little ability to be shamed for his past behavior, could also choose to stay on the ballot – betting that the same conservative electorate that shrugged off multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault to elect Donald Trump will do him the same courtesy.

Does this mean the Democrat might win – in Alabama?
The allegations against Moore do open the door for Democrat Doug Jones – previously an enormous longshot in one of the reddest states in America. Jones is a celebrated former U.S. attorney, nationally prominent for his role in prosecuting and convicting two Klan members for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four black girls.

What about the politics?
The Moore scandal heaps trouble on an already terrible week for Republicans – reeling after Democrats ran the table in pivotal elections earlier this week in Virginia, New Jersey and Washington state. If the controversy permits Democrats to steal the Senate seat, the GOP's narrow 51-seat majority will make it even tougher to move legislation like long-promised corporate tax cuts. But if the former judge somehow takes office in D.C., every Republican candidate in the country will be forced in 2018 to reckon with this question: Why are you running in the same party as Roy Moore?