With Alabama's special Senate election a day away and polls showing a close contest between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican/accused sex offender Roy Moore, we offer up a ranking of the moral clarity with which assorted political figures have evaluated the contest.
Extreme moral clarity
Sen. Richard Shelby
Alabama's senior senator has been particularly outspoken in his opposition to Judge Moore's candidacy, including appearances on the Sunday talk shows this week to declare that "Alabama deserves better." On the accusations by numerous women that Mr. Moore pursued sexual relationships with them when they were teens and he was in his 30s, Senator Shelby said, "I think, so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip — when it got to the 14-year-old's story, that was enough for me. I said I can't vote for Roy Moore." And he didn't, he says.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Asked Sunday about the recent spate of sexual impropriety allegations that have rocked the political, media and business worlds, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said she was proud of the “strength” and “courage” of the women who have come forward. She said they “should be heard,” and that goes equally for the women who have accused her boss, President Donald Trump, she said.
High moral clarity
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand
You could quibble about whether Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York took too long to call for her Democratic colleague Sen. Al Franken to resign over accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct. And you could certainly question why she decided now to say she thinks Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Lewinsky scandal — she holds Hillary Clinton’s old seat and has benefited from her Clinton connections over the years. But the fact remains that it was her move on Mr. Franken last week that opened the floodgates of women senators urging him to step down. Some are calling her opportunistic, but her commitment to supporting victims of sexual assault is of long standing, and she took a real political risk in speaking out as she did.
House Speaker Paul Ryan
House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced Mr. Moore when the allegations against him began to mount in November, saying the charges against him were “credible” and urging him to drop out of the race. This month, as Mr. Moore rebounded in the polls, President Donald Trump formally endorsed the former judge and the Republican National Committee re-committed itself to the race, Mr. Ryan didn’t budge. “I think he should have dropped out,” Mr. Ryan said at a news conference last week. “Just because the polling has changed doesn’t change my opinion on that, so I stand by what I said before.”
Muddled moral clarity
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi got to the right place eventually, calling on Rep. John Conyers of Michigan to resign after credible accusations about sexual misdeeds surfaced. But the journey was ugly. She showed no qualms about believing that Mr. Moore was a “child abuser,” but when the subject turned to Mr. Conyers, she initially called him an “icon” and preached the need for “due process.” When she finally did call for Mr. Conyers to resign, it was too late to dodge the charge of partisan hypocrisy. If we’re going to take women seriously when they complain about abuse, we need to do it whether it’s convenient or not, and Ms. Pelosi will now never be able to claim that moral high ground.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled off more or less the opposite of the Pelosi maneuver. Back in mid-November, he nailed it, saying in no uncertain terms that he believed Mr. Moore’s accusers. “I think he should step aside,” Mr. McConnell said at the time, adding that if elected, the Republican would face an immediate ethics investigation that could lead to his expulsion. But Mr. Moore stayed in the race, and his poll numbers rebounded. As President Trump prepared to make his formal endorsement, Senator McConnell got a new perspective on things. “The people of Alabama are going to decide,” Mr. McConnell said this month. “It’s really up to them.” Does Mr. Moore deserve a place in the Senate Republican caucus? It’s really up to you, Mr. McConnell.
Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler
No doubt the most jaw-dropping defense of Mr. Moore came from Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler who eschewed the more popular route of doubting the accusations by affirmatively arguing that even if the charges are true, they are no big deal. And he used Biblical references to do it, noting the age difference between the parents of John the Baptist and, most curiously, Mary and Joseph.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel
One member of the Romney family, Mitt, has been spot on in assailing his party for even considering supporting Mr. Moore. “Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity,” he tweeted last week. But the Romney who still has some clout in the GOP, his niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel, is apparently more flexible on the subject. The RNC canceled a joint fundraising operation with Mr. Moore in mid-November and pulled back from plans to provide resources to his field operation. Ms. McDaniel said at the time that the allegations were “deeply disturbing” and that Mr. Moore should “step aside if there is any truth to them at all.” Two weeks passed, and more women came out to accuse Mr. Moore of wrongdoing. And the RNC … started pumping money back into Mr. Moore’s race again. “It’s up to the voters of Alabama right now. … It’s not up to me,” she told CNN. Except to the extent that it is.
President Donald Trump
Pretty much everyone on this list has, at least at some point, expressed a modicum of concern about the allegations against Mr. Moore. Not President Trump. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at one point issued a pro forma statement in the “if true, he should step down” vein, but multiple insider accounts from the White House hold that President Trump has remained sympathetic to the candidate and dubious of his accusers. By Thanksgiving, he was saying it out loud, telling reporters on his way to Mar-a-Lago, “Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That’s all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it.” Early this month, he was on the phone with Mr. Moore offering his endorsement and urging him, “Go get ‘em, Roy.” This week, he made a campaign rally in Pensacola, Fla., as close to Alabama as you can get without actually crossing the border, in an unmistakable sign of support. There are a variety of explanations for Mr. Trump’s public embrace of the disgraced candidate — that he needs the vote in the Senate and doesn’t care about the price, that he loves thumbing his nose at the establishment, that he wants to claim credit if Mr. Moore wins. The most convincing explanation, though, is the possibility that by convincing himself that the accusations against Mr. Moore are false, he can convince himself that the allegations against him must be bogus, too. He has reportedly been telling people that the “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it because of his fame was fake — despite his having admitted to it last year, and the White House was quick to push back against the three Trump accusers who appeared on Megyn Kelly’s show on NBC this morning. “These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign,” the statement said. “And the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory.” In other words, it’s not the truth that matters. It’s winning.
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