Whenever a politician insists too much on his own pious morality – and his duty to impose that particular brand of morality on everyone else – the safest prediction is that sooner or later, a scandal will emerge. For Roy Moore, the former judge now running to fill Jeff Session’s Senate seat, the revelations about his past remained hidden for decades, while he constantly proclaimed his righteousness from a perch atop the Ten Commandments.
Now we have heard from four Alabama women who say Moore dated them when they were teenagers – in one case, a 14-year-old girl with whom he allegedly initiated sexual contact – and he was an Etowah County assistant district attorney in his thirties. The Republican Senate nominee says it’s all just a pack of lies, concocted by the “Democrat Party and The Washington Post,” which first reported the women’s allegations in a lengthy front-page investigation on Wednesday.
But the highly detailed accounts, by four women who don’t know each and whose recollections other sources endorsed on the record, appear more credible than Moore’s denial. Wholly apart from his extremist politics, the Post’s portrait of Moore is disturbingly creepy, a lawman prowling the local mall in his spare time to meet underage girls. Before he ascended to the Alabama bench – and before a federal court order ousted him for refusing to remove a massive Ten Commandments sculpture from Alabama’s Supreme Court building – he may have committed a felony sex offense.
Such hypocrisy has long been standard among political and religious figures, especially those “conservatives” who most emphatically declare their rectitude. The Republicans who pursued Bill Clinton over his affair with the very young Monica Lewinsky were rightly outraged, if wrongly seeking to impeach him. Except, of course, that so many of them were not the purists they pretended to be. Leading them in misconduct was Speaker Newt Gingrich, then conducting a secret affair with the committee staffer he later married, but he was far from alone in a caucus that featured every flavor of prurient sin, by the dozen.
Still, what Moore stands accused of doing is considerably worse than what most of his fellow hypocrites ever did. Conducting an extramarital affair or patronizing a prostitute may offend many voters; molesting a 14-year-old girl should offend everyone.
But will it? One reason for the durable double standard on the right is a nearly automatic impulse to excuse awful conduct, particularly toward women. Gingrich was thrown out as speaker, mainly because he became an electoral liability. But Gingrich came back. So did David Vitter, the Louisiana congressman with a diaper fetish and a weakness for call girls. So did Rudy Giuliani, the married mayor who misused his police detail to ferry him to assignations outside the city. So do they all, apparently.
Roy Moore may be no exception, even though several Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested he is unfit for office and should step aside in the wake of the Post report. Alabama law prevents the Republican Party from substituting another nominee so close to the election, a legal obstacle that could benefit Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee who has run surprisingly well against Moore in recent polls.
And the defiant Moore is betting that his base, the same voters who last year embraced an actively misogynist presidential candidate, will stick with him. He enjoys the support, fittingly, of extremist Steve Bannon, who exemplifies the louche culture of the Trump White House.
Moore’s loyal voters won’t be able to point to the contrived acts of contrition and renewed professions of faith that usually precede the rehabilitation of “Christian” scoundrels, who brazenly assure us that Jesus himself has forgiven them. No sooner are these politicians granted this easy grace do they return to oppressing gays and lesbians, transgender people, immigrants, or whatever scorned group currently serves as scapegoat. A free pass isn’t available except to straight white men.
The fate of a suspected pedophile Senate nominee is now an acid test of Republican morality, from the grassroots of Alabama to the highest offices on Capitol Hill. So far, Republican officials in his home state are making excuses; one county chairman pledged to vote for Moore even if he did commit a sex crime against an underage girl.
So don’t bet on the uprightness of “conservatives.” And don’t bet on Roy Moore losing.