Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

The GOP's Roy Moore and Steve Bannon nightmare just came into focus

November 9, 2017 at 12:55 PM

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks at the Values Voter Summit in October. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

The Washington Post just published some downright shocking allegations about Alabama's Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. And if current polling and Moore’s recent electoral history are any indication, it could tip the race to the Democrats.

If it does, the GOP just saw its slim Senate majority cut in half, all while giving Democrats an actual chance to take over the chamber in 2018.

And if it does, the GOP also just saw the real damage Steve Bannon could do to the party -- in case it forgot what happened in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

In The Post's report, Leigh Corfman accuses Moore of initiating sexual touching with her back in the 1970s, when she was 14 and he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. Three other women say Moore pursued them when he was in his 30s and they were between the ages of 16 and 18. "I wasn’t ready for that — I had never put my hand on a man’s penis, much less an erect one,” Corfman told The Post about one encounter with Moore. She added: "I wanted it over with -- I wanted out."

It isn't immediately clear what might happen now. Absentee ballots have already gone out with Moore’s name on them for the Dec. 12 special election, according to the Alabama elections division. State law also says a replacement nominee must be filed at least 76 days before an election. "I believe it is too late" to replace Moore on the ballot, said John Bennett, a spokesman for the Alabama secretary of state's office. There has been some talk about a possible write-in campaign, like the one Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) successfully waged in 2010.

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On Nov. 13, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore to "step aside" after women accused him of sexual misconduct. "I believe the women," McConnell said. Moore denied the allegations. (The Washington Post)

And if Moore's political career has shown us anything, it’s that he is more than happy to take a stand against anybody who tries to tell him what to do. This is a guy who has made not one but two principled stands that effectively forced his removal from the state Supreme Court. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him try to fight this, especially after President Trump withstood numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations on his road to the presidency. Put plainly: It's hard to rule anything out in the Trump Era -- even a Moore victory.

But if Moore doesn’t win and Democrat Doug Jones does, Republicans’ effective Senate majority will have declined from 52-48 to 51-49. That gives them almost no margin for error in passing legislation.

It would also make the GOP’s Senate majority significantly more vulnerable next year. Given that Vice President Pence breaks ties in the Senate, Democrats need to pick up three seats and hold all their seats (many of them in red states) to win back the chamber. But they only had two obvious pickup opportunities: In Arizona and in Nevada. If Democrats can win in Alabama, those two pickups might suffice. The math and their path to a majority will be significantly clearer.

And now to Bannon. Saying the former head of Trump's campaign and chief White House adviser delivered the nomination to Moore is giving him too much credit -- Moore already led before Bannon came on-board and made an appearance for him -- but Moore is the kind of candidate Bannon has promised to support in Republican primaries across the country. Bannon is seeking primary challengers to run against basically any Republican incumbent who doesn't call for Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) removal as majority leader. He's looking for anti-establishment, nationalistic, Trumpian firebrands. But those firebrands also tend to be less vetted, more extreme and prone to spectacular downfalls that cost the GOP seats.

"Steve Bannon is responsible," said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff who argued that Bannon has enabled candidates like Moore who are outside the GOP mainstream.

The pitfalls of this approach are all-too-familiar to Republican leaders. The party nominated a series of extreme candidates backed by the tea party who went on to lose very winnable Senate races in 2010 and 2012. Think: Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, Ken Buck and Christine O’Donnell. Republicans’ ability to win the Senate majority was arguably delayed for years by these candidates' upset wins in GOP primaries.

Bannon is threatening to usher in a replay of the GOP's tea party primary pains. It may have just started earlier than we expected.

Robert Costa contributed to this post.

Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Hill newspaper.

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