U.S. President Donald Trump is facing a political maelstrom over Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and whether to join prominent Republicans in trying to force him to end his candidacy in the wake of sexual misconduct accusations from four decades ago.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and two former Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain, have all said that the 70-year-old Moore should drop out of the Dec. 12 election in the southern state, but Trump, back in Washington after a five-nation Asian trip, has yet to weigh in.
Two women have accused Moore of unwanted sexual advances when they were teenagers and Moore was in his early 30s. Three other women said that about the same time in the late 1970s, Moore pursued them for dates when he was a local prosecutor and they were in high school.
Moore has been defiant in refusing to quit the race against Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, to fill the remaining three years of a Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned to join Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement position.
Moore has vehemently denied the sexual misconduct allegations, while not denying that he dated much younger women.
He has blamed the media for harassing his campaign and said he would sue The Washington Post, the newspaper that a week ago published the first wave of accusations from four women in on-the-record interviews.
On Wednesday, a sixth woman accused Moore of groping her while she was in his Alabama law office on legal business in 1991. Unlike the earlier cases that involved teenagers, Tina Johnson was 28 and in a strained marriage at that time. She was at the law office with her mother, who had hired Moore to handle a custody case involving Johnson’s son.
As the women left Moore’s office, Johnson said he groped her buttocks. “He didn’t pinch it; he grabbed it,” she said.
Earlier in the week, Beverly Young Nelson alleged that Moore assaulted her one night in the late 1970s after she finished work at a barbecue restaurant that Moore frequented in Gadsden, Alabama. Moore claimed to not know the woman, but Nelson said in 1977 he had wished her Merry Christmas in her high school yearbook.
“To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say ‘Merry Christmas’ ... Love, Roy Moore D.A.,” the inscription said, referring to his job as a district attorney.
Moore’s lawyer, Phillip Jauregui, on Wednesday questioned whether Moore had written the inscription.
Moore has attempted to rally his political supporters and focus his campaign on Christian virtues, saying Tuesday night, “If we don’t come back to God, we’re not going anywhere.” Political surveys show Moore and Democrat Jones in a close contest in the politically conservative state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in last year’s presidential election.
But Ivanka Trump on Thursday rejected Moore’s claim of Christian values. The first daughter told AP, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I’ve yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.’’ But, she stopped short of calling for Moore to exit the race.
Trump, while traveling overseas, deflected questions about Moore.
“I have to get back into the country to see what’s happening,” he said.
Trump faces a political dilemma in dealing with Moore. The candidate could ignore any entreaty from the president to quit the race because Trump supported Moore’s opponent in a September Republican party primary election, appointed-Senator Luther Strange. But after Moore won the primary, Trump voiced his support.
In addition, if Trump says, as other Republicans have, that he believes the women’s accusations against Moore, Trump critics are likely to question why the five women’s accounts are to be believed, but not those of 11 women who during the 2016 presidential election accused Trump of unwanted touching or kissing. Trump said they were liars and promised to sue them, but has not.
Moore’s name would remain on the ballot even if he were to drop out because the deadline to withdraw from the race has long passed.
McConnell and other Republican officials have floated the idea of mounting a write-in candidacy to try to defeat Moore. Some have suggested that Strange attempt to keep the Senate seat in Republican hands with a write-in bid, while others have suggested that Sessions resign as attorney general and attempt to reclaim the Senate seat he held for 20 years.
Other Republicans are saying that if Moore wins the election and is seated in the 100-member Senate, they would immediately try to expel him as morally unfit to be a U.S. senator.