Two days after announcing his retirement and denouncing Trumpism from the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) set a different trend — he became the sole Republican senator opposed to Roy Moore’s Senate bid in Alabama.
Collared in the Dirksen Building by NBC’s Frank Thorp, Flake, who does not do many hallway interviews, said that Moore represented exactly the politics that had ruined his party.
“A guy who says that a Muslim member of Congress shouldn’t be able to serve?” Flake said. “That’s not right.”
Flake, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has frequently criticized religious discrimination. But he is the only Republican in the Senate to criticize it in the context of Moore’s campaign. Moore, the “Ten Commandments judge” who wrote in 2006 that Congress should refuse to seat Muslim Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), has garnered the support of Republican leaders and insurgents in the Senate.
The movement toward Moore has contradicted conventional wisdom about his surprise win. As he marched toward victory in last month’s Republican primary, many GOP strategists warned that the far-right Moore would become an embarrassment to the party, much as former then-congressman Todd Akin became an albatross after his 2012 Senate nomination in Missouri.
Akin did not have a President Trump to compete with. Liberal news sites have published stories about Moore’s views at a steady clip, but few have broken into the national news cycles.
Republicans have taken advantage of that. This week, as first reported by Politico, the National Republican Senatorial Committee created a joint fundraising entity — the Alabama 2017 Senate Victory Committee — with Moore, who has sometimes struggled to raise money. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), meanwhile, endorsed Moore in a statement, then told NBC News that he could look past Moore’s views on Islam and gay rights.
“I have disagreement within my own family — doesn’t mean I care for them any less. So I support the nominee of my party,” he said.
Also this week, Moore scored the endorsements of three Republicans with libertarian leanings — Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The endorsement from Paul was especially controversial, with the libertarian magazine Reason publishing a lengthy criticism of his move. (Disclosure: I worked for Reason from 2006 through 2008.)
“Moore’s attitudes toward homosexual citizens goes far beyond merely not wanting them to have ‘special rights,’ ” wrote Reason’s Brian Doherty, a biographer of the Paul family. “Moore, as he declared from the bench in the that 2002 case, believes all American homosexuals who have a sex life in line with their preferences are for that very reason criminals. The Paul endorsement is a depressing sign of how much personal liberty America’s political class, even the supposedly freedom-oriented ones, are willing to give up in exchange for lip service to tax cuts.”