Roy Moore defeated an incumbent Republican in an Alabama primary Tuesday
His rise has worried Senate members of his own party of primary challengers
Roy Moore’s victory in the Alabama Senate primary is provoking fears in the halls of the Capitol, with Republicans openly worried that Moore’s slash-and-burn politics could have broader implications in 2018 and beyond.
A wide range of Republican lawmakers reacted with alarm Wednesday, saying that they hope Moore will fall in line with the rest of his conference if he wins the special election in December. Otherwise, several said, it could have a broader impact across the party if Republicans are saddled with controversies stemming from Moore’s inflammatory rhetoric, particularly on social issues.
“Obviously I’m not enamored with his politics,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who could face a tough primary and general election next year. “I don’t think that’s the future of the Republican Party. That’s for sure.”
Asked if Moore’s views could spell problems for his party, Sen. Richard Shelby, the senior GOP senator from Alabama, said bluntly: “We’ll have to see. It depends on where you’re running from.”
Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, came into prominence over his staunchly conservative views on social issues, criticism of homosexuality and belief that the separation of church and state has been interpreted far too broadly. His defiance of a federal order to get rid of a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Alabama Supreme Court prompted his removal of the bench in 2003, the first of two such instances.
Moore’s hard-line views have made him a hero of the far right, including President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who has vowed to battle other GOP-backed candidates in their primaries if they are insufficiently conservative.
Some senators fear that they could be next.
“Oh yes,” Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said when asked if he is concerned about facing a tough primary next year. “I think that will be more likely my toughest challenge.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who lost a 2010 primary bid to an insurgent challenger but later won as a write-in candidate during the general election, said she hoped that Moore’s victory did not breathe new life into a tea party movement with its sights set on GOP incumbents.
“I hope that this was perhaps a one-off,” Murkowski said.
Republicans said Wednesday that Moore’s victory also is the result of an angry GOP base frustrated that the party has not delivered on its ambitious agenda – namely its longstanding effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“One of the reasons there’s a space (for insurgents) is because we haven’t delivered,” said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “If I’m a Republican out there, I’d be pissed off too.”
Indeed, the GOP is facing historically low poll numbers, fueled in part by apathy from Republican voters. A recent CNN poll said that just 29% had a favorable view of the party, an all-time low, and a new Quinnipiac poll said that congressional Republicans were even less popular – with just a 15% approval rating.
“He’s very polarizing,” Sen. Bill Cassidy said of Moore. “But for the Alabama primary base, that polarizing is all to the positive.”
Lawmakers said Wednesday that is one reason why Moore was so successful: He railed against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and promised to end his reign as majority leader. McConnell’s super PAC spent millions trying to help Strange win the primary, calling Moore unfit for office.
Hoping to move past the fight, McConnell called Moore on Wednesday afternoon after announcing he’d support his candidacy in the December special election against Democrat Doug Jones, according to a McConnell spokesman. And Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, also called Moore to congratulate him on the win and said he looks forward to Moore’s “constructive engagement” as a senator.
“We all say things in campaigns that sometimes we come to reconsider,” Cornyn said when asked about Moore’s anti-McConnell rhetoric.
Asked about his campaign against McConnell, Shelby said: “I’m hoping that’s political talk rather than reality, you know. But we’ll see what happens.”
Shelby said Wednesday evening he had yet to speak to Moore, and had no plans to call him.
With the GOP reeling, Democrats hope they have a path – either in Alabama or to use Moore against other candidates across the country.
“We know how tough Alabama is, but we also know we have a great candidate in Doug Jones,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “And we do believe there is a path to victory.”
This story has been updated.