Political News

Republicans' response to the Roy Moore story sure sounds familiar

Posted November 10, 2017 11:37 a.m. EST

— Roy Moore, the Republican Senate nominee in Alabama, is a great fan of the Bible. So one would assume he'd be familiar with this Old Testament verse:

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

As Republican officials in Washington respond to allegations that Moore, in the late 1970s, made advances on a 14-year-old girl and three more teenagers, there is an inescapable feeling of déjà vu.

We've walked this path before, and not too long ago. We know its turns, and where it ends.

When on October 7, 2016, The Washington Post -- which also broke the Moore story -- published a tape in which then-candidate Donald Trump could be heard bragging that, because he is "a star," women allow him to "grab them by the p---y," a raft of high-profile Capitol Hill Republicans rushed to unhitch their wagons from his campaign.

"While I continue to respect those who still support Donald Trump, I can no longer support him," Ohio Sen. Rob Portman said in a statement on October 8. "I will be voting for Mike Pence for President."

One year, one month and a day later, Portman was again confronted with a similar decision: how to respond to the allegations against Moore. This time, the stakes were lower. Moore isn't running for president. Senators from other states aren't traditionally expected to formally endorse their would-be colleagues. Nor do they, with one exception, have a vote to withhold.

"I think if what we read is true, and people are on the record so I assume it is," Portman said on Thursday, "then (Moore) should step aside."

Portman actually went a bit further than most of his GOP colleagues, who didn't publicly "assume" anything about the veracity of the women's accounts.

Of the claims against Moore, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said, "If they're accurate, he should step aside."

"If they're proven to be true, then he should step aside," North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said.

Did Republicans coordinate their response down to the word? We don't know. But here's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Moore: "If these allegations are true, he must step aside."

In 2016, McConnell offered a similarly cautious rebuke to Trump, saying, "These comments are repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance. As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape."

Trump offered a qualified apology and, for many on his side of the aisle, that was enough. Former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who said he could "no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president" after the tape went public, reversed course a few weeks later, tweeting: "I will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him. HRC is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA."

If anything, Republicans went further in their public statements -- if not actions: the NRSC has severed fundraising ties with Moore -- in condemning Trump than they have in Moore's case. The formulation of the "if true" talking point is a logical dead-end.

Trump, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Montana Sen. Steve Daines, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are among the officials who have used the formulation. Still, it's unclear what would it would take to meet this impenetrable standard, or how they would act in the event something or someone removed the "if" from their minds.

But past performance, as witnessed in 2016, suggests there is no second act coming. The curtain, for all practical purposes, is down on this show.

Perhaps the most jarring parallel between the reaction to Trump affair and Moore's scandal is in the reactions from the candidates themselves. About halfway through his 90-second apology video, Trump pivoted to an attack on his political opponents. A day later, he tweeted this: "The media and establishment want me out of the race so badly - I WILL NEVER DROP OUT OF THE RACE, WILL NEVER LET MY SUPPORTERS DOWN! #MAGA"

Trump's public contrition withered over a time. A few weeks later, he threatened the women who subsequently accused him of sexual misconduct.

"Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," he said during a speech on October 22 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."

Moore hasn't threatened his alleged victims, but he has taken a page from the Trump playbook in lashing out angrily in a fundraising email and tweeting out a four-part screed against Democrats and the news media.

"The Obama-Clinton Machine's liberal media lapdogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me I've EVER faced!," he said in a post on Thursday.

Moore finished with a familiar flourish.

"Our children and grandchildren's futures are on the line," he wrote. "So rest assured --- I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!"