Why is anyone surprised?
Donald Trump finished one last bit of work as he left for a Mar-a-Lago Thanksgiving, effectively endorsing disgraced former judge Roy Moore, the Alabama GOP Senate nominee, because “we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.” Trump continued attacking Democrat Doug Jones: “I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military.”
But Jones isn’t “terrible on crime.” The former US Attorney successfully prosecuted two of the men accused of the Birmingham church bombing that killed four little black girls in September 1963. It must also be observed: Moore himself is credibly accused of committing a crime, when he brought 14-year-old Leigh Corfman to his home and sexually molested her. It seems as though Corfman refused to consent to Moore’s pushing the boundaries, but it doesn’t matter: She was 14, too young to consent. Roy Moore is an accused child molester. Trump endorsed him nonetheless.
There had been some drama over whether Trump would do that. But in some ways, it’s like dog biting man, predictable. Trump, accused of sexual abuse by 16 women and elected president anyway, endorsed a far-right Republican who’s been accused by nine women. Of course he did. Both men deny the charges against them. Trump never accepted the increasingly common belief that we need to at least listen to these women. He depicted his accusers as crazy, or too ugly for him to have assaulted; he threatened to sue them (and of course he did not). If he came out and said he “believed” Moore’s nine accusers, he’d be opening himself to questions about how all 16 of his own accusers could be lying.
Also, he has no conscience.
In a typically herky-jerky joust with the media, Trump said he does not believe the women who’ve come forward to say Moore preyed on them as teenagers (or the police and retail and security workers who said Moore was banned at the local mall for hitting on high-school girls). “If you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it,” Trump said. “He says it didn’t happen. You have to listen to him also.”
There’s a new GOP slogan: “Listen to the predators.”
He continued: “I do have to say, 40 years is a long time,” Trump said of charges that go back to the ’70s. “He has run eight races, and this has never come up.”
Trump then wandered off message. “Women are very special,” he said. “I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very very good for women, and I’m very happy these things are coming out.”
So Trump is “very happy these things are coming out,” but doesn’t believe them? He’s not just a serial sexual offender, he’s a moron.
Trump’s endorsement of Moore was foreshadowed by his aide Kellyanne Conway’s comments on Monday to Fox and Friends. Conway seemed to shock the Fox hosts when she said, “Doug Jones in Alabama—folks, don’t be fooled. He will be a vote against tax cuts.”
Brian Kilmeade asked whether that represented a White House endorsement of Moore, Conway replied, “I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.” Conway’s not-so-subtle message was: Yes, we’ll elect an accused child molester to get our tax bill. When your crass partisanship shocks Fox hosts, you know you’ve gone off the rails.
Trump’s Moore endorsement puts him at odds with major figures in his own party, from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to Alabama’s senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, who says he “absolutely will not vote for Roy Moore.” Shelby’s comments are featured in a new Doug Jones ad, along with criticism by the president’s daughter Ivanka. Trump has made sure that the Moore election is a referendum on his control of the party. Having been cajoled into endorsing McConnell’s choice in the primary, appointed incumbent Luther Strange, an angry Trump followed former strategist Steve Bannon into the Moore camp, not wanting to be on the losing side again.
Will he wind up on the losing side anyway? Nobody knows. There are some polls showing Jones with a slight edge; there are Republicans like former Jeb Bush adviser Tim Miller endorsing Jones, and urging other Republicans to join him in raising money for the Democrat. Formerly mainstream Republicans seem to be seeing Moore as the existential threat they feared Donald Trump was, but that most convinced themselves he was not. Had these folks urged GOP votes for Hillary Clinton last year, his party might not be staring down the threat of a child-molesting white supremacist grabbing a seat in the Senate.
But hindsight is always easier. We’ll see whether in the coming days more Republicans join Miller and endorse Jones outright, or decide that tax cuts for the rich are more important than keeping a sexual abuser out of the Senate.
Joan Walsh, The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent, is the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America.