The big new finding from a Quinnipiac University poll is this: About half of Republicans say GOP senators should let Roy Moore serve in the Senate. By a margin of 49 percent to 33 percent, Republicans say the Alabamian, who is accused of sexual misconduct with multiple teenagers, should not be expelled if he wins next month's special election, as some Senate Republicans have threatened to do.
But that's hardly the only finding in the poll that suggests the GOP has taken a softer view toward sexual harassment.
The poll also shows sexual harassment isn't a dealbreaker for Republicans when it comes to President Trump. And it's not even that they just doubt the accusations against Trump (which has been the case ever since nearly a dozen women came forward at the end of the last election). The poll shows Republicans also oppose trying to remove Trump from office even if it was proved that he sexually harassed the women who have accused him. By a margin of 63 percent to 28 percent, Republicans say Trump should not be impeached even if we know for a fact that he sexually harassed women.
More generally speaking, Republicans are also less likely to say alleged sexual harassment is a dealbreaker when voting for a candidate. The poll asked that if a candidate faced multiple sexual harassment allegations, whether people would “still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues.” A plurality of Republican, 43 percent, say they would, while 41 percent say they definitely would not.
By contrast, Democrats say they definitely would not vote for such a candidate, by a margin of 81 percent to 12 percent, and independents say they definitely wouldn't 2-to-1.
Here's the thing, though: The vast majority of Republicans already did vote for such a candidate in Trump. So most of those 41 percent of Republicans who say they wouldn't consider such a candidate are kidding themselves or have suddenly changed their view. (I'd bet the house it's the former.) And the 81 percent of Democrats who say they wouldn't support such a candidate must contain a fair amount of converts from the 1990s, when Democrats overwhelmingly supported Bill Clinton for president despite accusations against him. Democrats have more recently moved toward a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment, with some even suggesting Clinton should have resigned.
Mostly, then, the poll is useful as a barometer of where the two party's stand on the interplay between sexual harassment allegations and politics. And on that question, Republicans clearly don't seem to have as much of a litmus test.
That's undoubtedly colored by what's happened with Trump and Moore. But it's one thing to doubt those specific accusations; it's another to say that such accusations don't matter as much as the issues or partisanship. And it's entirely another to say that you still think Trump should be president even if he did sexually harass women. That relegates sexual harassment to a pretty negligible part of the political calculus.
As long as Republicans are winning elections, their voters seem to be saying, that's enough of a judgment for them. And that's a big problem for party leaders who seem to want to turn the page on the Roy Moore chapter of their party's existence.