Update: President Trump has now echoed Conway's comments, telling reporters before heading to Florida on Tuesday that “we don’t need a liberal person in there -- a Democrat.” Trump also added multiple times that Moore "denies" or "totally denies" the accusations against him and that “40 years is a long time.” Trump also declined to rule out campaigning for Moore. "I'll be letting you know next week," Trump said.
So while other Republicans have said they find Moore's accusers to be credible and have said he needs to drop out, Trump is effectively endorsing him over Democratic nominee Doug Jones and suggesting Moore's denials might hold water. That sets up an interesting clash if Moore does win.
A top White House adviser to President Trump on Monday morning effectively endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, a man who faces multiple accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, including one involving a 14-year-old.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway didn't say, “Vote for Roy Moore,” but she might as well have. And her comments put a button on a lengthy series of comments and no-comments from the White House that can be read as nothing but a wink and a nod toward supporting Moore in the Alabama special election and doubting his accusers.
Asked on Fox News whether the White House was urging Alabamians to support the Republican, Conway's answer was decidedly not “no.”
“I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” Conway said. “And the media — if the media were really concerned about all these allegations, and that’s what this was truly about … Al Franken would be on the ash heap of bygone half-funny comedians. He wouldn’t be here on Capitol Hill. He still has his job. What’s Bob Menendez doing back here? That’s the best my state of New Jersey can do?”
Conway then turned to Moore's opponent, arguing he's not worthy of Alabamians' votes and would be too left-leaning.
“The guy Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal,” Conway said. She added: “I just want everybody to know Doug Jones. Nobody ever says his name, and they pretend that he’s some kind of conservative Democrat in Alabama, and he’s not.”
Conway went on to not explicitly rule out Trump's campaigning for Moore, although she did say Trump had no plans to do so.
So to recap: Trump needs votes in the Senate, Jones is too liberal for the White House, and the president's top adviser won't explicitly rule out Trump's campaigning for Moore. It's not difficult to imagine the message Alabamians would take away from that. Whether her comments were technically presented as an endorsement is really beside the point.
Nor is it altogether surprising that we'd wind up in this place. The White House, from Day One of the Moore fiasco, has struck a significantly different tone than the rest of the Republican establishment. After The Washington Post broke the first story on this and Republicans said Moore needed to drop out if the allegations were true, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the same thing but added some caveats that suggested that Trump was skeptical of Moore's accusers: “Like most Americans, the president believes that we cannot allow a mere allegation — in this case, one from many years ago — to destroy a person's life.”
Since then, the GOP establishment has effectively disowned Moore, apparently hoping (in vain, it turns out) that he would drop out or be forced out by the state GOP, either of which would have allowed Republicans to mount a write-in campaign. But Trump never joined in that chorus, even a little bit. He found time to weigh in on all manner of other things — including Franken's own sexual-assault allegation — but never mentioned Moore.
As I argued last week, that was tantamount to a statement of support for Moore. Conway's comments on Monday make it more explicit, but really they just complete the picture of a White House that is very much on the Moore campaign's side.
Other advisers Sunday struck a slightly different tone, saying Trump felt that the accusations were credible and that, if he didn't, he would be out campaigning for Moore already. But Conway seems to have brought this all back to where it began — and where it has long been headed.