A day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he believed Roy Moore's female accusers, McConnell got the logical next question:
So do you also, then, believe President Trump's female accusers?
McConnell didn't answer that question Tuesday, but it does highlight the difficult precedent the GOP is setting for itself by disowning Moore. The increasing united calls for Moore's ouster have come amid accusations of sexual misconduct with two teenagers nearly four decades ago. McConnell has now come out forcefully against Moore, and the Senate GOP has moved toward saying it will expel Moore from the chamber even if he is duly elected on Dec. 12.
They probably hope it never gets to that point, though. That's because everything about this leads to uncomfortable questions — questions involving why exactly they believe one female accuser but not necessarily another, about whether similar accusations will be disqualifying in the future, and about where they draw the line.
The leader of their party, Trump, makes those questions infinitely more difficult. That's because during the 2016 campaign, 11 women came forward to accuse him of unwanted touching or kissing. Some of them flat-out accused him of sexual assault. Trump has said these women are liars and promised to sue them — a promise that he still hasn't made good on more than a year later.
In the case of Moore, we have two accusers, one who says the Senate candidate from Alabama initiated sexual touching when he was 32 and she was 14 (the legal age of consent in Alabama, then and now, is 16), and one who says Moore forcibly sexually assaulted her around the same time, when she was 16.
By arguing that Moore should drop out, the GOP is effectively putting more stock in Moore's accusers than Trump's. (If that weren't the case and the GOP believed Trump's accusers, one assumes it would say so and move to impeach him.) But why is that? Is it because Moore's case involves minors? Is it because his accusers' accounts are more detailed and/or credible than those of Trump's accusers? Is it because the GOP could still salvage Moore's seat with a write-in campaign, but it couldn't replace Trump as its nominee late in the 2016 election?
None of these answers are great, but there has to be an answer. And many of them involve parsing the accounts of women who say they were sexually mistreated — or saying that one form of alleged sexual abuse is grounds for excommunication, while another is not.
The GOP also creates potential problems for itself if Moore wins and it moves to expel him. The Senate GOP's campaign chairman, Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), said Monday, after Moore's latest accuser came forward, that “the Senate should vote to expel [Moore], because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”
But then they are suddenly expelling someone over allegations they have not been convicted of — and despite that person having won the seat through a democratic election. It's easy to make a political argument that the allegations are too troubling to support Moore's candidacy, sure, but what if the voters decide they still want Moore as their senator? Isn't expelling him from the Senate effectively overriding the will of the voters? And by saying Moore should be expelled today, isn't the GOP prejudging the ethics inquiries that would precede Moore's expulsion?
If it does get to that point, senators also have to ask themselves what kind of precedent they're setting. Will allegations of sexual misconduct be grounds for expulsion going forward? What if two accusers come forward and accuse any one of them of such misconduct? You can rest assured senators will be thinking about their own futures if they vote on expelling Moore.
There are quite simply no easy answers here. You can totally believe the accusations against Moore and still have valid concerns about how to prevent him from joining the Senate. With Moore apparently dug in, Republicans will apparently confront plenty of these uneasy questions in the days and weeks ahead.