The Roy Moore mess actually began with the Trump ‘Access Hollywood’ tape

 In U.S.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Roy Moore may or may not become a U.S. senator, but he was fortunate that the explosive allegations about him pursuing relationships with teenage girls (one as young as 14) while he was in his 30s emerged at a time in his party’s history when it had been preparing for years to defend something like this.

If Moore’s political ambitions survive, he’ll have President Trump — and the way the GOP, in service to Trump, abandoned any pretense of moral principle — to thank.

Moore is insisting that The Post’s story is all a bunch of lies engineered by people who want to silence Christians like him. He’s even using it as a fundraising tool, asking supporters to contribute so that he can fight back against “the forces of evil” and “The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs.”

But if you read the story, it’s almost impossible to believe it isn’t true. Our reporters found four different women, none of whom know each other, telling similar stories of Moore pursuing them when they were teenagers. They didn’t come forward themselves — the reporters, after hearing rumors that apparently had been circulating in Alabama for years, tracked them down and convinced them to share their stories. They have nothing to gain. Relatives and friends corroborate the stories. And if more women don’t come forward, I’d be shocked.

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore denied allegations of sexual misconduct on Nov. 10 and called them “politically motivated.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Moore should withdraw from the race if allegations are true. (Jordan Frasier,Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

The reaction from Republicans since the story broke has had a few components. On the key conservative media outlets like Fox News and Breitbart, the order of the day has been doubt. Can you really trust the dastardly Washington Post? Don’t women make up stories like this all the time? Among the Christian right activists who are Moore’s most avid supporters, some are declaring that they believe him, while others are trying to find biblical justification for grown men having sexual relationships with young girls. Others have said that even if the allegations are true, it’s better to elect a pedophile than a Democrat.

There are, it should be said, some Republicans who are disgusted by these stories and are not making excuses for Moore. Mitt Romney, for instance, tweeted: “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”

But most of the leaders of the Republican Party are taking a very specific and carefully crafted position, which says that the behavior described is unacceptable and if the allegations are true then Moore should step aside. Versions of this formulation have come from the White House press secretary, from Vice President Pence, and from Mitch McConnell.

In the short term, this allows Republicans to have it both ways, because they can condemn Moore’s behavior in the knowledge that there will always be something short of absolute proof. If he loses the special election in December, they can say that it was his own fault. And if he wins, they can say that the allegations were never really proved and welcome him into their ranks.

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