President Trump said his name just twice Friday night at a rally in Pensacola, Fla. But it was enough to get his message across: Trump went down South to urge nearby Alabama voters to send Roy Moore, a man accused of making sexual advances toward teenagers, to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Here's what the president said about Moore at the rally:
We want people coming into our country who love our people, support our economy and embrace our values. It's time to get our priorities straight. This guy is screaming, "We want Roy Moore." He is right.
We love our veterans. We want conservative judges, like Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. Doing a great job, too. We want people that are going to protect your gun rights, great trade deals instead of the horrible deals. And we want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it. Do it.
Trump has already endorsed Moore, so in a normal race, that he also campaigned for him wouldn't be news.
But in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is anything but normal. Senate Republicans want nothing to do with Moore after The Washington Post published allegations that Moore inappropriately touched a 14-year-old when he was 32, and five other teenagers who say he made advances toward them. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried everything to get a defiant Moore to drop out.
At first, Trump kept his distance, too. But Trump, who is facing his own allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment from more than a dozen women, soon made clear that he doubts Moore's accusers and that he'd rather have a Republican in the Senate than a Democrat.
The president is still incredibly popular in Alabama, a state he won by nearly 30 points in November. What he says about Moore and his accusers matters, especially among a voter base that is already heavily skeptical of East Coast media and the more traditional Republican establishment.
So, it's no small thing when Trump seized on news Friday that one of Moore's accusers acknowledged she wrote some notations on an inscription in a yearbook that she claims Moore signed.
Here's what Trump said at the rally about that:
How many people here are from the great state of Alabama?
Whoa. Well, I have to say this; look, I have to. We have to be fair. So did you see what happened today? You know the yearbook? Did you see that? There was a little mistake made. She started writing things in the yearbook. Oh, what are we going to do? Gloria Allred — anytime you see her, you know something's going wrong.
We cannot afford — this country, the future of this country, cannot afford to lose a seat in the very, very close United States Senate. We can't afford it, folks. We can't.
Trump's words don't just carry political capital. After Trump made it official Monday that he supports Moore, the Republican National Committee turned back on the spigot of cash to help Moore win. Now, Senate Republicans are less sure they can kick Moore out if he wins.
IF Moore wins.
Moore might still lose what should be an easily winnable race for a Republican. Polls show a neck-and-neck race between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
That's why it was so notable when the White House said the president wouldn't explicitly campaign for Moore.
As The Fix's Aaron Blake wrote at the time, it's possible Trump was hedging his bets against a Moore loss. If a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama for the first time in 30-some years, Trump could technically distance himself from the loser by saying he didn't campaign for him. “His decision not to actually travel to Alabama for Moore, then, would seem to be a pretty rough commentary on Moore's chances,” Blake wrote.
The White House said Trump's Pensacola rally was on the books long before Moore's race got complicated. (On Saturday, he is scheduled to attend a private event at a civil rights museum in Jackson, Miss.)
But on Friday, less than 20 miles from the Alabama border, Trump erased any plausible deniability he might have had in this Senate race. He explicitly went down South to campaign for Roy Moore.