President Donald Trump broke his silence Tuesday afternoon on allegations of sexual abuse facing Roy Moore, the Republican Party’s Senate nominee in Alabama.
But what he said is only likely to add to his party’s growing problems in the race.
“He denies it,” Trump said of Moore who has insisted the allegations of several women that he pursued relationships with them when they were between 14 and 19 are totally false.
“Look, he denies it. If you look at what is really going on, if you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours. He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And you know you have to look at him also. He says, 40 years ago, this did not happen.”
Asked whether he might campaign for Moore in advance of the December 12 special election, Trump left the door open to the possibility.
“I’ll be letting you know next week,” he told reporters before jetting off to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida where he and his family will spend Thanksgiving. “But I can tell you, you don’t need somebody who’s soft on crime like (Democratic nominee Doug Jones).”
Trump’s defense of Moore stands in stark contrast to the approach taken by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a number of other Republican senators, who have said that they cannot support Moore’s candidacy and that he should withdraw from the race.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who chairs the Senate Republican campaign arm, went so far as to suggest that if Moore managed to win the race, he would be expelled from the chamber soon after being seated. (If Moore was expelled, he’d be the first sitting senator to be removed by his colleagues since 1862.)
Far from condemning Moore or telling him to get out of the race, Trump’s comments amount to an all-but-endorsement of the controversial former Alabama state Supreme Court chief justice. While Trump did not go as far as to say he didn’t believe the women accusing Moore of misconduct, his emphasis on Moore’s denials amount to the same thing.
What Trump was saying is that he believes Moore. That if Moore says he didn’t do these things, then he must not have. No matter what the women – none of whom know each other and virtually every one of whom has put their names to the accusations they made against Moore – say.
By saying he supports Moore’s version of events, Trump is, de facto, saying that the women aren’t telling the truth. Both things – Moore is telling the truth and so are the women – just can’t be true.
That’s a huge break from where McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment are on the Moore issue – and where they hoped Trump would be.
The other argument Trump made in his comments about Moore, essentially, is this: Moore is a Republican. Doug Jones is a Democrat. And party matters more than anything else.
Again, here’s the key part of Trump quote on that: “I can tell you for a fact we do not need somebody who’s going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad for the military, bad for the Second Amendment.”
So, whatever Moore’s flaws may be – and Trump doesn’t acknowledge them because, well, he believes Moore’s story that all of the women are lying – he’s still way better than a Democrat because he will vote in line with the Trump agenda.
That echoes the sentiment expressed by Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway in an interview on Fox News Monday morning.
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled,” Conway said. “He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”
Asked whether that meant Republicans should vote for Moore,Conway responded: “I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”
In short then: Yes.
Again, that runs directly counter to the message from many establishment Republicans – that it isn’t worth sacrificing principle solely to hold control of a single Senate seat.
‘We are in trouble as a party if we continue to follow both Roy Moore and Donald Trump,” Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been critical of Trump and is retiring in 2018, said Monday. “I just don’t think that is the direction for the party.”
The long and short of it is this: Everything Trump said Tuesday afternoon about Moore and the Alabama Senate race runs directly opposite of what the leaders within the national GOP have said in recent weeks. Literally everything.
The boost Moore will get from Trump’s comments will make it that much harder to remove the controversial judge from the race or to organize a serious write-in campaign against him. And Trump’s appeal to tribalism – any Republican is better than any Democrat solely by dint of being a Republican – will further worsen what is already the deepest polarization in Congress and the country in modern American history.
Happy Thanksgiving, Republicans!