The Republican Party has had some ups and downs with the Republican nominee in Alabama's Senate race, to say the least. So much so that exactly a week before the election, they are completely divided on whether to even support Roy Moore.
President Trump and the Republican National Committee are backing him despite multiple women accusing him of making sexual advances when he was in his 30s and they in their teens.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans want nothing to do with Moore and haven't ruled out kicking him out of the Senate if he wins. But they've failed to get him to drop out of the race, a sign of just how little sway they have with Republican voters.
Here's the story of the Republican Party's tortured, on-again, off-again relationship with Moore:
Aug. 8: A week before the GOP primary election, Trump endorses Luther Strange to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate, despite Moore leading in the polls.
It's a win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had been trying to get Trump on board with their candidate.
Aug. 15: Moore wins the primary by six points, with Strange in second. But Moore's vote total falls short of a majority, which sets the stage for a September runoff.
Sept. 22: Trump goes to Alabama to campaign for Strange. Reluctantly. He only does it at the urging of GOP senators, and once he gets there, he publicly regrets it: “I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake,” he told the crowd. … “If [Strange's] opponent wins, I’m going to be here campaigning like hell for him.”
Sept. 26: Strange's opponent does win, easily. Moore wins the runoff by more than nine points. He still has a Dec. 12 general election, but in Alabama, the Republican primary is usually the hardest part of the election.
Sept. 26/27: Trump deletes some of his tweets supporting Strange, like:
- “Big election tomorrow in the Great State of Alabama. Vote for Senator Luther Strange, tough on crime & border — will never let you down!”
- “Luther Strange has been shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement. Finish the job — vote today for ‘Big Luther.’”
- “ALABAMA, get out and vote for Luther Strange — he has proven to me that he will never let you down! #MAGA”
And he fires one off a tweet in support of Moore:
Senate Republicans, however, are less enthusiastic about Alabama's GOP nominee. Only a couple endorse Moore.
Nov. 9: The Washington Post reports that four women said Moore initiated sexual or romantic encounters with them when they were in their teens and he was in his 30s. One woman, Leigh Corfman, said Moore asked her out, drove her to her home in the woods, stripped her to her undergarments, stripped to his undergarments and started touching her. She was 14 at the time.
Moore calls the story “fake news.”
Nov. 9: That afternoon back in Washington, at least half a dozen Senate Republicans say Moore should step aside. But they add a caveat: “if these allegations are true.”
Nov. 10: The Moore news breaks while Trump is traveling in Asia. From across the globe, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issues a written statement casting doubt on the allegations against Moore:
“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. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”
Nov. 10: For the first time, Moore speaks out to defend himself — and offers a shaky one. He tells Sean Hannity on Fox News Radio that it's possible he dated teenage girls when he was in his 30s. The only allegation he categorically denies is that he inappropriately touched Corfman. Here a key line from that interview:
HANNITY: Do you remember dating girls that young at that time?
MOORE: Not generally, no. If did, you know, I'm not going to dispute anything, but I don't remember anything like that.
Nov. 13: Moore's Hannity interview happened on a Friday afternoon. By Monday morning, top Senate Republicans were done with him. “I believe the women, yes,” McConnell said.
Others called for him to step down.
Those who had endorsed him retracted their endorsement.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), chair of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, even said that Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he refuses to withdraw and he wins.
Senate Republicans' campaign arm subsequently announced it is pulling all funding and campaign help from the race.
Also Nov. 13: Moore tries to pitch Republicans' criticism as an “us vs. them” argument to his supporters.
Nov. 14: McConnell publicly tries getting Sessions back in the race. As one of the most well-known politicians in the state, Sessions is one of the few who could launch a successful write-in campaign with a month to go. “He's totally well-known and is extremely popular in Alabama,” McConnell says.
Nov. 16: A Fox News poll, one of the first widely citable polls taken in this race since the allegations, shows Democrat Doug Jones with an eight-point lead over Moore. Alabama hasn't sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in decades.
Nov. 17: Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) says she'll be voting for Moore, largely because he's a Republican.
Nov. 21: After some 10 days of silence on Moore, Trump basically endorses him: “We don't need a liberal person in there — a Democrat,” Trump told reporters, emphasizing how Moore has denied the allegations.
Late November-early December: Other national media outlets poll the Alabama Senate race and basically find it neck and neck.
Dec. 1: Senate Republicans pass a tax bill with one vote to spare.
Dec. 3: McConnell goes on Sunday talk shows resigned that Moore won't drop out of the race and doesn't call for Moore to do so: “It will be up to the people of Alabama to make this decision,” McConnell said.
Dec. 4, before dawn: Trump endorses Moore.
He makes it official in a call to Moore a couple hours later.
Dec. 4, afternoon: Senate Republicans don't follow the president. “The leader did not change or retract any of his previous statements” that Moore should drop out of the race or face an ethics investigation that could expel him, McConnell's spokeswoman, Antonia Ferrier, tells The Fix.
Dec. 4, evening: The Republican National Committee says it will start spending money for Moore again. Senate Republicans' campaign arm reiterates they definitely aren't supporting Moore, and Senate Republicans criticize their party for donating money to Moore.
Dec. 5: Trump reiterates his support for Moore: “We certainly don't want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me,” he tells reporters.
About an hour later, Senate Republican leaders make clear they disagree. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic, shares he donated $100 to Moore's Democratic opponent, Jones.
McConnell tells reporters that if Moore wins, the Senate may have no option but to seat him — then launch a bipartisan ethics investigation into his conduct, which could lead to his expulsion.
And that would probably launch yet another potential battle between Trump and Senate Republicans. Which means even when the Senate race is over in Alabama, it could continue to haunt and torture Republicans in Washington.