Witcover: Sex allegations may be knockout punch for Senate candidate Roy Moore

The sexual behavior of American politicians and celebrities has been a staple of news stories from the beginning of the Republic. But it seems to have approached a peak this year with the case of Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, and other such scandals.

Accused of molesting a then-14-year-old girl when he was 32, Moore has denied it. He has rejected calls from leading Republicans to withdraw from the special-election for the seat of former Sen. Jeff Sessions, now serving as President Donald Trump's attorney general. Three other females have leveled similar charges against Mr. Moore, also denied.

The demand for his withdrawal is largely accompanied by the caveat “if true,” but in the court of public opinion, it seems so far, outside Alabama at least, to have reached the point of acceptance. In any event, Mr. Moore's name remains on the already printed Dec. 12 ballot, amid an avalanche of protest as female voters across the country have risen up against the once-ignored phenomenon of sexual abuse.

In the run-up primary, the president had backed Mr. Moore’s Republican opponent, Luther Strange, but Mr. Trump later switched to Mr. Moore as his party’s nominee. On Friday, from Air Force One as the president continued his Asian trip en route to Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared Mr. Trump’s conditional support.

“Like most Americans,” she asserted, “the president believes we ca’'t 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.”

Mr. Moore quickly sought to blame the Democrats, saying: “The Obama-Clinton Media’s liberal machine lapdog has just launched the most vicious and nasty kind of attack against me I’ve EVER faced. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message.”

The Moore story comes amid a host of similar allegations against other prominent figures in Washington and Hollywood, in politics and lately in high-profile journalism, as more women are seeking and winning public offices at all levels of government. It is part of the latest scandal saga that has ensnared actor Kevin Spacey and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and newsmen Michael Oreskes and Mark Halperin.

Most prominently, President Trump has endured similar allegations hanging over him since the 2016 presidential campaign and even now in connection with the Justice Department investigation into Russian meddling in the election.

An aide has reported recently that during a Trump visit to Moscow when he was a private citizen, a Russian operative offered to send five women to his hotel room, but that the offer was rejected. Other allegations in a salacious dossier professing to report Trump sexual misbehavior were also denied.

In the 2016 campaign, a video was released capturing Mr. Trump bragging about his sexual prowess in encounters with other women as a thrice-married married man, likewise dismissed as “fake news” as part of his continuing assault on the critical news media.

He survived that campaign turmoil by denying all accusations, with former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, now running the far-right website Breibart News, joining in blaming the liberal Washington Post for keeping the issue alive.

But the president's reputation as a womanizer in his pre-election years remained a concern among many female voters, who turned out in unexpected numbers for the post-inaugural Women's March on Washington last January, and generated broad grass-roots political organizing manifested in last Tuesday's Democratic results in Virginia, New Jersey and other blue-voting states.

Presidents of both major parties have often taken to foreign trips to escape from domestic political woes. Lyndon Johnson notably did so during his most trying times. They usually generate favorable publicity at home as the president represents the nation in a more nonpartisan posture. This past week, it was convenient for Trump to be in the Pacific and Asia as his party experienced an unpleasant bump in the political road.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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