Washington (CNN)Senate Republicans face a dire reality in Alabama following sexual misconduct accusations about Roy Moore, their Senate nominee in Alabama: They want Moore gone from the race but are largely powerless to make that happen.
Roy Moore can still win
In the immediate aftermath of the Washington Post's bombshell report that Moore had pursued relationships with four girls between the ages of 14 and 18 when he was in his early 30s, a slew of Republican senators came out with statements making clear that if the allegations were true, Moore needed to step out of the race.
"I think if he does what he should do, does the right thing and steps aside, I don't think it will hurt the Republican Party," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership team, on Thursday afternoon.
The problem, as readily became apparent from Moore's defiant statements, is that he isn't going to step aside. Moore sent four tweets Thursday night making that abundantly clear; "Our children and grandchildren's futures are on the line," read Moore's final tweet. "So rest assured — I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!
In the face of that stand-and-fight mentality by Moore, Republicans in Washington are left with a handful of bad -- and likely ineffective -- options.
"Not a ton of great options and even fewer if he insists on staying put," acknowledged one senior Republican Senate strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly about the Moore situation.
Republican could move from their current "if true" caveat regarding the allegations to something more like what Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the situation on Thursday night; "The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of," McCain tweeted.
But those are just words. And words from people who Moore ran aggressively against during his primary and runoff wins over appointed Republican Sen. Luther Strange. The likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Strange and warned that nominating the already-controversial Moore would create a host of problems for the party if and when he came to Washington.
That dynamic means that Moore has zero incentive to listen to calls from official Washington for him to leave the race. In fact, the louder those calls get, the more likely it is that Moore digs in even further.
Then there is the fact that the widespread condemnation of Moore among GOP senators is not entirely shared by Alabama Republicans.
Take Alabama state auditor Jim Ziegler, for one. In an interview, Ziegler downplayed the accusations against Moore by citing Scripture:
"Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There's just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual."
Then there was Alabama Marion County GOP chair David Hall, who told the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale this: "It was 40 years ago. I really don't see the relevance of it. He was 32. She was supposedly 14. She's not saying that anything happened other than they kissed."
In the Post report, however, the accuser also says Moore sexually assaulted her. She says Moore touched her and forced her to touch him.
The reality on the ground in Alabama is that Moore could still win the special election race on December 12 over Democrat Doug Jones. Lots of Alabamians don't trust the national news media. They feel as though they know Moore -- he has been around Alabama politics for decades -- and they don't want to vote for a Democrat.
If Republicans in Washington think Moore's decision to remain in the race amid these allegations is bad, imagine how they will feel if he actually wins and is seated in Congress. (If Moore wins -- and the state GOP doesn't withdraw his nomination -- the Senate will have no choice but to seat him.)
Every day Moore remains in the race is a day where Republicans -- already reeling from across-the-board losses in the 2017 election that can be directly traced back to President Donald Trump's unpopularity -- watch their brand further deteriorate. And, that brand isn't in terribly good shape as it is. In a new CNN poll, just 30% of people have a favorable view of the GOP while 61% have an unfavorable one.
Every day between now and December 12 -- assuming Moore doesn't drop out -- every Republican Senator will face questions about him. Should he leave the race? Should the state party withdraw his nomination? Should state law be changed to keep Moore from the Senate? Should a write-in candidacy be staged? Is Moore someone who does -- or should -- represent the Republican Party?
If Moore actually makes it to Washington, those questions will only redouble. Should Moore be removed by the vote of two-thirds of the Senate? Is that a end-run on the democratic process? If he stays, how can Senate GOPers deal with him on a day-to-day basis?
Moore, even before The Post story on Thursday, was going to be a problem that McConnell and the rest of the governing wing of the Republican Party in Washington was going to have to deal with. That problem turned into a crisis Thursday. And it's a crisis without any obvious or good options to solve.
Some Republicans are so fed up with Moore's behavior that they'd rather lose the seat -- which would make the possibility of a Democratic Senate in 2019 more likely -- than have to deal with him any more.
"Best case scenario is for him to step aside which seems unlikely," said a veteran Republican Senate operative. "Next best case is for the Alabama electorate to beat his ass like a drum and make it clear that regardless of party affiliation the GOP does not tolerate child predators."