You may have thought that Republicans had sunk as low as they could possibly go last year when they nominated for the presidency a man who was singularly unfit, morally and mentally, for that post. But, no, once you start racing to the bottom you never quite stop. There is always another level of degeneracy to be plumbed.
Enter Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. He believes that “homosexual conduct should be illegal” and that Muslims should not be permitted to serve in Congress. Now the Washington Post reports that this fearless crusader for “traditional values” had a habit of propositioning underage girls.
In one case in 1979, when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, the Post reports, Moore allegedly offered to watch a “little girl” outside a courthouse for her mother. He subsequently took advantage of this entree to kiss and fondle this 14-year-old after undressing both of them down to their underwear. The statute of limitations has expired on this sordid episode, but under Alabama law it would constitute sexual abuse in the second degree and be punishable by up to a year in prison.
Under common morality, of the kind that Moore claims to champion, his conduct is simply vile. You don’t have to be the parent of teenage girls — which I am — to be deeply disgusted. Yet he is utterly unrepentant. Moore simply waves off the allegations, claiming, “This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation.”
On his Twitter feed he has the gall to write, “Our children and grandchildren’s futures are on the line. So rest assured — I will NEVER GIVE UP the fight!” He even has the audacity to send a fundraising appeal to his supporters claiming that the Post article is evidence that “the forces of evil are on the march in our country,” and asking for a donation to fight the “Clinton-Obama machine.”
So far, much to their eternal discredit, Moore’s Republican backers in Alabama appear to be sticking by him. Paul Reynolds, the Republican national committee man from Alabama, told The Hill that he doesn’t trust The Washington Post: “If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time.” State auditor Jim Ziegler is willing to admit the charges are true, but he doesn’t care. He cited the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph — “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus”— and concluded, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
Republicans in Washington are slightly less gung-ho for Roy Moore, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to do the right thing—which is to call on him to leave the race immediately and endorse his Democratic opponent if he doesn’t. President Trump’s mealy-mouthed statement, delivered via his press secretary, speaks volumes: “The president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside."
The key words here, echoed by Republican senators, are “if these allegations are true.” Well, of course, no one wants to see anyone punished for false allegations. But how is their truth or falsity to be established? It is too late for a court case, unless Moore is foolish enough to sue The Washington Post for libel — and that would take years to resolve. The Post account is full of detailed corroboration from 30 people, including the victims, who spoke on the record. Moore offers vague denials and non-sequiturs about how he is supposedly a devoted family man.
By treating this as a “mere allegation … from many years ago,” the Republican establishment is in effect giving Moore a pass — just as they gave Trump a pass after he confessed on videotape to sexual assault. So far only a few honorable Republicans, including Mitt Romney, John McCain and John Kasich, recognize that the presumption of innocence applies to criminal defendants, not political candidates.
This episode is the sorry culmination of two trends that have disfigured the conservative movement beyond all recognition: contempt for the facts and desire to win at all costs. Republicans are increasingly reliant on “alternative facts” manufactured by the likes of Fox News and Breitbart, which claim that global warming isn’t real and neither is the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee. The real scandal, they tell us, is the Steele dossier paid for by the Democrats in an attempt to uncover Trump’s Russian connections. Or is it the evidence-free claim that Obama supposedly wiretapped Trump?
POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media
In the final analysis, no indictment of their candidate will convince the faithful. As Trump once said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Or, more to the point, Roy Moore could molest a 14-year-old girl and not lose votes. Because for Republican partisans, their opponents are “the forces of evil,” and anything is preferable to that. Even Donald Trump. Even Roy Moore. So in ostensibly fighting evil, Republicans have become complicit in it.
This is a party that does not deserve to survive.
Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is author of the forthcoming book The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.