Democrats might not win in Alabama, but they can't lose either
Posted December 10, 2017 8:19 p.m. EST
(CNN) — The Alabama Senate race will come to an end on Tuesday night, but the passions animating this brutal campaign promise to inflame the national political scene for much longer -- a reality some Democrats quietly acknowledge, win or lose, could aid their efforts to slow the Republican agenda in Washington and hobble GOP candidates ahead of next year's midterms.
A win for Democrat Doug Jones this week would have the immediate effect of further pressurizing the Republican push to get a tax bill to President Donald Trump's desk. The GOP's slim majority would be further narrowed, to 51-49, by a victorious Jones, leaving the party only a single vote to spare in passing legislation under reconciliation rules. The result would also effectively dash any lingering Republican hopes of gaining a 60-seat supermajority in 2019.
Should Moore prevail, the status quo on taxes would too, but Republicans will be thrown, deeper still, into a much more complicated and potentially damaging debate over the nature of their relationship with a man accused of molestation, sexual assault and trying to date teenage women decades ago in Alabama.
In their search for high ground on the issue of sexual harassment and misconduct, Senate Democrats forced one of their own, Sen. Al Franken, into political exile, asking for and receiving his announced resignation. Franken's ouster solidified the Democratic Party line and, in doing so, established a contrast with the Republican handling of Moore.
If he wins, the Senate GOP will immediately be forced to reckon -- again -- with Moore's alleged behavior, first in an anticipated ethics committee investigation, and then, possibly, a blockbuster vote to expel their new colleague from the chamber. Meanwhile, Republican candidates across the country, up and down the ballot, will be pressed by Democrats to plainly state their position on Moore, a lose-lose proposition in these tribal times.
"There's a reason the NRSC has unequivocally disavowed Roy Moore -- they know every Republican will have to answer for his repulsive behavior and bigoted positions," said Jesse Lehrich, a Democratic operative. "Republicans' long-term viability is still dependent on becoming a big tent party and, let's just say, I don't know many people who want to be stuck in a tent with Roy Moore."
The complications don't end in Washington. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a vocal Moore supporter from before the Alabama primary and current campaign trail hype man, would surely claim credit for his foresight, bolstering what Lehrich called the "Bannon wing of the GOP" and its suspect candidates.
A number of high-profile Republicans have been open with their worries. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby -- one not typically inclined to public dissent -- told Jake Tapper on Sunday's "State of the Union" that allegations Moore molested a 14-year-old made the nominee impossible to support.
"I couldn't vote for Roy Moore," Shelby said. "I didn't vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name. And I think a lot of people could do that. Will they do it? I'm not sure."
The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Colorado's Cory Gardner, has refused to reconsider an earlier decision to pull his backing, and the NRSC's cash, even after the Republican National Committee jumped back in the race.
"Roy Moore will never have the support of the senatorial committee. We will never endorse him. We won't support him," Gardner told The Weekly Standard last week. "I won't let that happen. Nothing will change. I stand by my previous statement."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been less firm in his position, all but assuring -- win or lose -- that his standing is diminished in the aftermath. The Kentuckian backed Sen. Luther Strange in the September primary, then urged Moore to "step aside" soon after the first reported round of allegations. More recently, though, he backed off that stand, saying eight days ago he would "let the people of Alabama make the call" at the polls, a tacit acknowledgment that McConnell would seat Moore and count on his vote.
As part of their tactical efforts to deny Republicans any opportunity to connect Doug Jones to the liberal boogeymen on Capitol Hill, national Democratic groups have mostly kept their heads down when Alabama comes up. But the state parties have already begun to deploy Moore as a weapon against some of the GOP's most promising 2018 hopefuls.
Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley, a Republican Senate candidate, called for Moore to leave the race, absent "rock-solid evidence that these claims are false," in November. Still, Show-Me State Democrats have bombarded him at every turn -- most pointedly as Trump endorsed Moore and the RNC made its about-face -- in search of a definitive disavowal.
"Is Josh Hawley comfortable being associated with someone accused of sexual abuse with young women? Is he comfortable standing with those accused of sexual misconduct and assault? Why has he refused to unequivocally denounce Roy Moore?" they asked -- and asked and asked -- in a December 4 press release. When the RNC re-committed to Moore, the Democrats pounced again, calling on Hawley "to immediately answer whether he stands with Roy Moore -- who has allegedly sexually assaulted women as young as 14 and co-authored a course saying women should not run for office -- or women."
Democrats asked a similar question after Trump, who voiced support for Hawley during a speech in Missouri, backed Moore. Hawley's campaign responded, in an email to the Kansas City Star, by demanding the Democrats return money raised by "serial groper Al Franken" -- who was still weighing his options at the time -- and "call on him to resign." (Sen. Claire McCaskill would do just that, following another new accusation, on Thursday. She had previously donated funds raised over the years by Franken's political action committee.)
The wider Democratic strategy also takes aim at GOP supply lines -- seeking to cut off or marginalize donors and fundraising sources, like conservative moneyman Richard Uihlein, with even indirect connections to Moore.
The strategy also takes aim at GOP supply lines -- seeking to cut off or marginalize donors and fundraising sources, like conservative moneyman Richard Uihlein, with even indirect connections to Moore.
In Pennsylvania, another state where Democrats are playing defense, party spokesman Max Steele said the RNC "failed a fundamental moral test when it agreed to fund the campaign of a man accused of sexually preying on teenagers." He then called on Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, another 2018 Senate candidate, to "end his silence" and either renounce RNC money or be seen accepting "financial contributions and field organizing help from a group that funds the political campaign of a man accused of child molestation."
Moore has mostly disappeared from the trail since his rally with Bannon in Fairhope last week. But on Sunday, he resurfaced for a softball interview with reporter Bill Britt, and again denied the allegations against him and claimed not to know his accusers.
He said the attacks were meant to strip away at his strength -- "moral values" -- and that the furor would subside when the ballots are counted.
"When this race is over, on 12 December," Moore insisted, "it will be over."
For both worried Republicans and eager Democrats, it must have sounded like wishful thinking.