The news Friday that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore plans to run for the Senate seat currently held by Jeff Sessions, a Senator who became Attorney General under President Donald Trump, couldn’t come at a worse time for Democrats.
But they should worry less about Moore’s possible ascendance to that office, which should present a headache for Republicans.
The more significant reason Democrats should worry about Moore, whose record on judicial policy is truly grim, is the political strength of his opposition. By the standards of normal political races, Moore is a gadfly candidate who stands little chance of winning. But he isn’t typical at all. Moore’s combination of impressive fundraising and attention-getting style have helped him secure his place on the ballots of 22 of Alabama’s 65 counties, according to the Moore campaign.
While candidates routinely shift allegiances as the race develops, Moore’s connection to Trump is important. Trump, like Moore, did not accept the Republican nomination in Alabama in 2016, choosing instead to run as an independent.
A substantial chunk of the Trump electorate has never forgiven the party leadership for convincing it to abandon their candidate. Trump and Moore both hope that voter anger with the party will be strong enough that a weakened Republican leadership may find its willingness to abandon the nominee irresistible.
Trump’s admirers clearly hope he can still push a Republican to the nomination — perhaps even Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself — but Moore’s proven ability to put Republican voters on the ballot suggests he can thwart any effort.
An estimated 30 percent of Alabama voters are Republicans, 20 percent are Democrats and the rest are independent.
Moore, in other words, has a built-in base of conservatives who strongly identify with him and whom he inspires. Trump’s rank-and-file support is very much in that range, in part because a significant bloc of Trump’s supporters expressed disbelief that he could bring about change in the Republican Party.
Moore’s persona is also uniquely powerful. He has an unswerving devotion to the Christian right and no inhibition whatsoever about making salacious comments about gays and lesbians. Whether voters forgive Moore for those comments remains to be seen, but his willingness to appeal to bigotry is clearly part of the appeal.
He has been accused by multiple women of having sexually harassed or assaulted them. He defended his behavior by saying that any relationship with them was “sexual misconduct,” according to the Associated Press.
Among Democrats, the opposition to Moore becomes a little harder to discern, given some of the serious candidates they have fielded.
For example, the state’s Democratic Party chairman, Steve Flowers, has raised the possibility of a run by Nancy Pelosi, Nancy’s husband, Paul Pelosi, or former Vice President Joe Biden.
But Democrats from across the state have publicly denounced Moore. An organization that promotes diversity in the state’s judicial system — the League of Women Voters of Alabama — has praised Sessions as a model jurist.
None of that, however, obscures the terrifying centrality of the values that both Moore and Trump embrace in their political creed.
On economic policy, Moore and Trump appear to be irreconcilable, wanting lower taxes, dramatically less regulation and big cuts in programs like Social Security and Medicare. On social issues, Moore and Trump both want to block LGBT rights, eliminate abortion rights and would probably nominate candidates to the courts that share these values.
One Moore strategy that wasn’t made public Friday, but is starting to appear in public now, is to offer inarticulate moral arguments to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.
The fear is that Trump — the candidate whom Moore and Trump most clearly admire and who vociferously disavows criticism of Moore’s conduct — will eventually defect.
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