The 2020 election is weighing heavily on President Donald Trump’s mind, and not just the White House race — keeping a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate is equally important for the party’s control of the federal judiciary and national agenda. His anxiousness prompted a Twitter outburst on Wednesday morning. “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win,” the president tweeted. “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”
Trump was referring to the Republican former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who ran in a 2017 special election against Senator Doug Jones and lost. It was a historic race, the first since 1992 that saw a Democrat elected to the Senate from the deep-red state. Moore is known locally as a fringe theocrat who has blamed Americans’ supposed permissiveness toward anal sex and abortion for incidents of large-scale violence like mass shootings and 9/11. But he is best known nationally for allegations that he pursued sexual relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s — and in several cases sexually abused them, including one allegation that he made a 14-year-old touch his erect penis. (Moore denies these charges.)
For these and other reasons, Moore is considered a toxic candidate, including by members of his own party. U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne, a Republican from Alabama’s first congressional district, replied to reports that Moore plans to announce another Senate bid in June by stating that he would not survive the 2020 GOP primary. “I think people are very concerned that we Republicans lost a U.S. Senate seat because he was our nominee in 2017, and we don’t need to do that again,” Byrne told The Hill. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. echoed his father’s discouragement of a Moore redux. “If you actually care about #MAGA more than your own ego, it’s time to ride off into the sunset, Judge,” Trump Jr. tweeted.
Moore remains undaunted. His Twitter feed is filled with claims that he would definitely beat Jones in a rematch and attempts to brand himself as an outsider whom liberals and beltway conservatives alike are afraid of. And his hubris is not unfounded: Poll results published in April by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy show that 27 percent of Alabama Republicans would vote for Moore were the GOP primary held today — with Mo Brooks, the runner-up, trailing him by nine points. (Twenty-five percent of respondents remained undecided.)
It is fairly consistent with President Trump’s worldview that he has “nothing against” a racist, homophobic, Islamophobic conspiracist and accused child molester like Moore — except that he is a proven loser with a fair likelihood of losing again in 2020. Nor do the moral dimensions of a Moore candidacy seem to bother other Republicans who otherwise do not want it. Both Byrne and Trump Jr. appear more concerned with Moore’s prospects for victory than the implications of such a man representing their party in the Senate. This indifference is reflected in the Alabama electorate as well. Sixty-eight percent of white Alabama voters backed Moore’s Senate bid in 2017 — roughly the same share of white voters in the state who are registered Republicans. GOP voters overall supported Moore at a rate of 91 percent. It seems clear that the moral abdication represented by Moore’s relative success the last time around — he lost by less than two points — is a partisan phenomenon augmented by a racial one.
Remarkably, as I have written before, it has therefore fallen primarily to black voters and a small minority of progressive white ones to keep Moore off Capitol Hill. This development is merely the latest in a long history of black Alabamians fighting and dying for the right to vote — often specifically to keep violent segregationists and other white reprobates, like Moore, out of power. Demographics have never been in their favor. Alabama’s electorate is majority white and majority conservative. But the battle has been ongoing for decades, and only stands to continue as Jones seeks to defend his precarious Senate seat.
The reality is that if Moore wins the GOP primary, Trump will put his full-throated support behind him — just like he did the last time around after his preferred candidate, Luther Strange, lost the primary. As is likely with the national GOP, which also supported Moore’s 2017 campaign, the president will do what he can to ensure the seat goes to an unrepentant bigot and accused child molester rather than Jones, a man known for prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan. It will probably be a tight race. And there’s a decent chance Moore wins considering how close he came last time. But the bigger takeaway is that there exist few contemporary examples more vivid of the lows to which the president and his party will sink to retain power.