One of the narratives surrounding today’s Republican Senate special-election runoff in Alabama is that Donald Trump is battling a coalition of his own strongest supporters, who believe Judge Roy Moore is a better representative of the MAGA cause than Trump’s candidate Luther Strange. That could even underlie Trump’s own occasional expressions of ambivalence about the wisdom of getting behind Mitch McConnell’s favorite in the race, instead of joining Stephen Bannon, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Sebastian Gorka, Sarah Palin, Steve King, Mark Meadows, and Jim DeMint, among many other of his friends, on Judge Roy’s side of the barricades.
There’s another member of the Trump administration involved in the Alabama race who must be experiencing some cognitive dissonance as well: Vice-President Mike Pence, who spent a part of Monday in Alabama before joining Luther Strange for a relatively subdued Election Eve rally in a Birmingham airport hangar. He avoided any negative comments about Roy Moore. Perhaps, like Trump, he has seen the polls and didn’t want to burn any bridges to the possible GOP nominee for a Senate seat Republicans cannot afford to lose. Beyond prudential politics, though, Pence has spent most of his political career aligned with Roy Moore as a stalwart of the Christian right.
Pence’s transformation into the embodiment of the safe, sane Republican Establishment (and indeed, the Hope of the Nation if Trump goes too far off the rails) has obscured his prior career as a social conservative zealot. Most famously, Pence nearly wrecked his gubernatorial tenure in Indiana in 2015 by pushing through a “religious liberty” bill that made his state a national pariah and the subject of major business boycotts before he agreed to modify it. But long before then, as a leader of hard-core conservatives in the U.S. House, Pence was notable in the extremism of his commitment to conservative religious ideology. For one thing, he co-sponsored “personhood” legislation designed to make fertilized ova citizens for purposes of constitutional protection. For another, he was closely associated with the shadowy conservative Christian power-elite group “The Family” (a.k.a. “The Fellowship”) along with Jim DeMint, Sam Brownback, Mark Sanford, and other fire-breathing members of the cultural right.
But of all of Pence’s actions that made him a cherished leader of the Christian right (and a presidential prospect for a good while), the most striking was his decision to serve as an original co-sponsor of the single most outrageous bit of right-wing legislation introduced in Congress since the days of segregation: the Constitutional Restoration Act of 2005. Melissa McEwan described the Senate version of this legislation very bluntly:
[S]ome of the wingnuttiest members of the Senate have decided to attempt to turn us into a Christian Reconstructionist theocracy once and for all and have introduced the Constitutional Restoration Act.
Though it is described as a “bill to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism,” reading its actual summary proves enlightening as to its true intent: This legislation seeks to make it possible for Congress to remove any judge who refuses to acknowledge that the basis for all law, liberty, and government is God.
The bill also sought to “restore” state judicial supremacy over key constitutional issues, as Liberty magazine explained:
The Constitution Restoration Act of 2005 would, and in fact is designed to, reverse nearly 140 years of legal actions to the states, whereby religious fundamentalists can have more control over the outcome of decisions. State supreme court decisions would be the final word when it comes to the way that local governmental officials apply the “sovereignty of God” to their decisions, and would erase many constitutional protections that the CRA claims to restore. Or perhaps more accurately, the CRA would indeed “restore” the Constitution to the Dred Scott days.
The co-authors of this modest proposal? They were none other than Roy Moore, along with his longtime sidekick Herb Titus, who was once the vice-presidential nominee of the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party. The bill was originally unveiled in Alabama in February of 2004. Here’s how an enthusiastic supporter described the scene:
I was privileged to be in attendance at the press conference in Prattville, Alabama when former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Rep. Aderholt, Sen. Shelby, Sen. Brownback, and Ambassador Alan Keyes formally announced the introduction of this bill to the media. Also in attendance were conservative luminaries such as Phyllis Schlafly and Howard Phillips. The bill was drafted by a star-studded legal team including Chief Justice Moore’s lead counsel, Herb Titus.
This proud witness also noted the bill’s earliest supporters:
Initial sponsors of the bill include Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL), Rep. Michael Pence (IN), Sen. Richard Shelby (AL), Sen. Zell Miller (GA), Sen. Sam Brownback (KS), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC).
No wonder Mike Pence didn’t lay into Roy Moore in Alabama on Monday night. They truly are old comrades in arms. If Judge Roy makes it to the Senate, maybe Pence can serve as White House ambassador to the grim theocrat.