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Though the two are much alike in their ability to galvanize far-right voters, Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and Donald Trump have had little interaction with each other to date.
Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice, will face off with former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones in the December special election to decide who will fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat. Moore defeated his two well-known and establishment-backed Republican primary opponents—one of whom was endorsed by Trump himself—in a surprise upset, and up until recently, he has held a strong lead in the polls.
However, following recent allegations of sexual misconduct with underaged girls, Moore’s future is suddenly less certain. In early November, The Washington Post alleged that Moore had had sexual contact with a teenage girl when he was a 32-year-old district attorney. The victim, Leigh Corfman, spoke to the Post on the record, and shortly after the report was published, three more women came forward with similar allegations.
Moore has unequivocally denied the allegations, calling them fake news and threatening to sue The Washington Post. “The Washington Post published another attack on my character and reputation because they are desperate to stop my political campaign. These attacks said I was with a minor child and are false and untrue — and for which they will be sued,” said Moore at a campaign event in Huntsville, Alabama.
Trump, who reportedly wanted to endorse Moore because his own supporters in Alabama preferred the former judge, has had little to say on the matter. His press secretary has said that the president believes that Moore should step down if the allegations are true, but does not believe allegations automatically equal guilt.
Here’s what you need to know about Roy Moore and Donald Trump:
1. Trump Endorsed Moore’s Republican Primary Opponent, Luther Strange
In August 2017, a week before the primary election between Moore, Strange, and Congressman Mo Brooks, Trump issued an official endorsement for Strange via Twitter in a surprise move. All three of the candidates had already aligned themselves with Trump’s agenda on the campaign trail. In fact, there was “stiff competition to be the most pro-Trump,” according to New York Magazine. But the White House had previously declined to get involved in the special election.
“I respect President Trump, but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the Swamp somehow misled the President into endorsing Luther Strange,” said Brooks of the endorsement on Twitter before asking Trump to reconsider his decision.
A PAC affiliated with Strange’s colleague, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had pledged the previous month to drop up to $10 million in the effort to elect Strange, which helped cement his status as the establishment candidate among those vying for the GOP nomination. This explain why Trump’s endorsement came as a surprise to members of both parties; Trump is many things, but a man of the establishment he is not.
Following the endorsement, The Atlantic reported:
Republicans in Alabama were puzzled. Strange himself was surprised—he nearly drove off the road when Trump called him from the White House on Tuesday afternoon, he said. Republicans in Washington didn’t know it was coming, either; Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, had previously lobbied Trump to back Strange, but had not mentioned it to him for weeks, a source close to McConnell told me.
According to Politico, Trump made the endorsement begrudgingly, complaining to advisors that his base supported Moore over Strange, and that he worried he would alienate his supporters in Alabama, where, he said, “they love me.”
2. But Trump Immediately Tweeted His Support for Moore After He Defeated Strange in the Runoff Election
Moore and Strange placed first and second respectively in the primary elected, and proceeded to a runoff election a month later, where Moore nabbed the nomination by a margin of about 10 percent.
The night of Moore’s victory, Trump offered his congratulations to the former judge via Twitter. “Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Nov!” said Trump. He later retweeted the same message, correcting the date of the election from November to December.
Reports quickly surfaced in the media that Trump was angry and embarrassed that the candidate he endorsed lost the primary election. A senior White House official told CNN that Trump “knew [endorsing Strange] was a mistake but one he was willing to make because Luther was loyal.”
Regardless of what may have been happening in the background, Trump publicly began supporting Moore immediately after his victory, telling reporters on the White House lawn the following day, “I’m very happy with him, and I have to say Luther came a long way from the time I endorsed him and he ran a good race, but Roy ran a really great race.”
Later that day, he reiterated his newfound support for the candidate on Twitter. “Spoke to Roy Moore of Alabama last night for the first time. Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to #MAGA!” said Trump.
3. Moore Has Said He Supports Trump’s Agenda & Believes God Put Trump in the White House for a Reason
“I support President Trump’s agenda of making America great again. But I submit to you that we can only make America great again if we make America good,” Moore said at his office in Montgomery, Alabama, a day after he announced that he would run in the special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat.
Like his opponents, the former judge played up his support for Trump’s agenda during his campaign, but also highlighted his own similarities to the embattled president. “I am definitely not establishment,” he said.
“God puts people in positions in positions he wants. … I believe he sent Donald Trump in there to do what Donald Trump can do,” Moore told the Associated Press in May, months before winning the runoff primary election. “More than thinking I can win, it’s up to God and God’s will. We will see what God would have me do.”
“Everybody else thinks it’s the Russians. I think it was the providential hand of God,” he reiterated to The Guardian.
4. Trump Has Responded to the Allegations of Sexual Misconduct Against Moore by Saying He Should Step Down If They’re True
Following the allegations that Roy Moore made sexual overtures to multiple teenage girls while in his thirties, Trump came under fire for not strongly condemning the former judge’s actions.
“Like most Americans the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to reporters on Air Force One.
A number of high profile Republicans have already called for Moore to step aside, including John McCain and three of his fellow senators.
“The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying. He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of,” tweeted McCain.
Utah Senator Mike Lee revoked his endorsement of Moore in a tweet, saying, “Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I can no longer endorse his candidacy for the US Senate.”
5. Political Analysts Think Moore’s Victory Is in Part Due to Trumpism & the Growing Support for Antiestablishment Politicians
Following Moore’s victory in the primary runoff election, a number of major media outlets speculated that his win could be at least in part attributed to Trumpism, which Dictionary.com defines as “the nontraditional political philosophy and approach espoused by US President Donald Trump and his supporters.”
“ANALYSIS: Trumpism rolls over Trump in Alabama,” said ABC News. “Alabama’s Roy Moore proves Trumpism is more powerful than Donald Trump,” read a headline in The Hill.
“Moore’s victory is also taken as an indication that Republican incumbents who can be identified with the Washington establishment may be challenged and defeated in primaries,” wrote conservative political analyst Michael Barone in The Washington Examiner.
“Moore electrified the GOP base, bringing in support from the core of the party’s populist wing. Sarah Palin, Sebastian Gorka, Ben Carson, Louie Gohmert, and most importantly, Steve Bannon, threw their lot in with Moore. To them, the former justice is a loud proponent of America First principles. Just the fact that the establishment figures dutifully lined up behind Strange was a neon sign to primary voters for who not to support,” said Kristin Tate in The Hill.
Indeed, the casino owner president ran his 2016 on an antiestablishment platform, and Moore himself has spent a great deal of his career on the wrong side of the Alabama political sphere. The controversial judge was twice ejected from the state Supreme Court over his refusal to uphold legal orders that he believed contradicted his faith. Though Moore adds a deeply religious layer to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, given the outcome of last year’s presidential race, it is not difficult to see why Moore has enjoyed unexpected success during this special election.