The Senate Republican fundraising operation on Friday pulled out of a joint committee it had set up with Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore's campaign, following allegations the former judge initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago.
Republican divisions are deepening over how to respond to the allegations, with national GOP leaders distancing themselves from Moore and calling for him to drop out of the race while officials in Alabama have largely stood by the candidate.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Friday urged an immediate severing of party ties with Moore.
"Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections," Romney tweeted, before referencing the woman who had accused Moore of inappropriate sexual contact when she was 14. "I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside."
Romney joined his former rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in calling for Moore to step down immediately. Other Republican Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have called on Moore to step down on the condition that the reports prove to be true, but they have not yet described a process for assessing the truth of the claims.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Friday to end its agreement with Moore, which was set up in October, a day after The Post published a story in which a woman said Moore had initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32. The NRSC did not respond to requests for comment.
Democrats familiar with the campaign being run by their nominee, Doug Jones, said no new ad buys or investments were planned to take advantage of the story.
Moore has said he plans to continue his campaign and there has been no signal from the state Republican Party that they are seriously considering seeking to disqualify him from the Dec. 12 general election ballot. By Friday morning, Moore's allies were defending him and throwing doubt on his accusers, framing the story as a typical clash between conservatives and an untrustworthy media.
"What these women are doing is such a shame," said Alabama Republican State Rep. Ed Henry in a Friday interview with Huntsville station WVNN-AM. "As a father of two daughters, they discredit when women actually are abused and taken advantage of. They're not using their supposed experience to find justice. They're just using it as a weapon, a political weapon."
In a Friday interview with the Religion News Service, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. predicted that Moore would be vindicated.
"The same thing happened to President Trump a few weeks before his election last year except it was several women making allegations," said Falwell. "And I believe the judge is telling the truth."
In an extensive report published Thursday, The Post detailed the allegations against Moore by the then-14-year-old and three other girls who were between the ages of 16 and 18 when they said the incidents occurred.
None of the women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore's Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls.
Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women say they don't know one another.
In interviews since the publication of the story, state officials have said either that they would investigate the claims or raised questions about the timing of the revelations, suggesting the accusers were politically motivated.
"I will hold judgment until we know the facts," Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said Thursday evening.
Officials in Alabama said the opinions of national Republican leaders would have little effect on the state party. Others said political considerations would likely be a priority over the accusations.
"I think Alabama would elect Satan if he could get Obamacare repealed," said Jonathan P. Gray, a Republican consultant in the state who is not working on the Senate race this year.
Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler, a Republican, told the Washington Examiner that biblical stories offered a justification for the acts Moore is accused of committing. "Take Joseph and Mary," Ziegler said. "Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."
But Republicans working on other races around the country have raised concerns that the fallout from Moore's continued candidacy could effect the 2018 midterm elections. Even before the sexual abuse accusations became public, Senate Republicans had been asked repeatedly about Moore's more extreme positions on the proper role of the Christian faith in American political life.
Now party leaders expect new questions about the Moore accusations.
"I'm prepping my candidate for what he is going to say if he is asked," said one Republican campaign manager for a top 2018 race, who asked to speak anonymously to not draw attention to race. "At the very least, it is something that everyone is going to have to answer: Do you think Roy Moore at the age of 32 with a 14-year-old is like Mary and Joseph?"
During the 2012 election, Republican Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana made inaccurate and controversial comments about rape that allowed Democrats to make inroads with women voters across the country. Republican leaders later blamed those comments for potentially costing Republicans the Senate majority that year.
To some conservative pundits, the lesson of previous scandals was that Republicans had been bullied too easily. On Thursday evening, Fox News host Sean Hannity devoted half of his show to the Moore story, noting that in some high-profile cases, like the bombing of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a "rush to judgment" had ensnared innocent people.
"Herman Cain's going up in the polls, then the day he gets out - nothing," said Hannity, referring to a wave of 2011 sexual harassment relevations that sunk the Republican businessman's presdental bid.
"There's a very strange propensity of sexual allegations to suddenly become politically useful in the run-up to an election, or when someone stands up for the principles of the republic, like Clarence Thomas, and needs to be taken down," said Sebastian Gorka, a former White House adviser who became a Fox News contributor this week.
Dean Young, a longtime friend and adviser to Moore, said that Alabama voters would likely weigh the accusations against Moore with the sources that published them.
"This is a test of the people of Alabama and the people of this nation," said Young. "Can the people of Alabama be tricked by the liberal fake news or not?"