In the wake of Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones’ historic upset in the Alabama special election on Tuesday night, Republicans are distancing themselves from Republican candidate Roy Moore — who’s been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors — once again.
On Wednesday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted a scripture about how the “perverse” were “despised,” ignoring that the Republican establishment were open to the candidacy of an alleged child molester and funneling money into his Senate campaign for weeks.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Wednesday morning that he was “proud” of Alabama for electing Jones and “relieved” he wouldn’t need to deal with Moore in the Senate, adding that Jones’ win was a “great night for America.”
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) likewise said he was “relieved we’re not going to be dealing with all the mess that was headed our way” in the wake of Moore’s loss.
Moore was considered by many to be a toxic candidate early on. The former Alabama chief justice believed Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress; he also believed that homosexuality should be criminalized. Despite his extremist views, after Moore took the Republican nomination in September, establishment Republicans — including President Trump, who had endorsed Moore’s opponent, outgoing Sen. Luther Strange — began to embrace Moore. Five Republican senators endorsed Moore in the race, and others expressed a willingness to work with him.
In early November, the race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacant Senate seat was turned on its head after a bombshell report from the Washington Post, in which four women accused Moore of sexual misconduct. One woman was just 14 when the alleged incident occurred; Moore was in his 30s.
In the days following the Washington Post report, Republicans quickly began walking back their praise. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan said they found the allegations credible and called for Moore to step aside. Many GOP Congress members followed suit. But as the election crept closer, and polls began to shift back in Moore’s favor, Republicans began to change their tune.
McConnell abruptly reversed course in early December, saying that it was up to the voters to decide, and Trump fully endorsed Moore that same week, even recording a campaign robocall for him. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who had called for Moore to resign from the race previously, explained that Trump “didn’t have any choice” but to endorse Moore. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had pulled support from Moore in the wake of the initial allegations, resumed funding his campaign once more.
It didn’t matter. In a historic upset Tuesday night, Jones beat Moore — thanks, largely, to record-high turnout among black voters — to take Sessions’ vacant seat as a pro-choice Democrat.
In the wake of that humiliating defeat — Sessions’s seat was thought by many, including Trump, to be firmly Republican, with no chance of an upset — Republicans changed their tune once again.
Many of the same Republicans who cheered Jones’ win on Wednesday (or expressed relief at Moore’s defeat), weren’t brave enough to stand against a man accused of child sex abuse during the campaign, arguing that it was up to Alabama voters to decide.
“This information is before the voters of Alabama,” Rubio said just two weeks ago, a far cry from the pious scripture-sharing he was doing Wednesday morning.
Cornyn and Thune, who were also cheering Jones’ victory Wednesday morning, were hardly fighting for it in the lead-up to the race.
Asked about the possibility of Moore’s committee assignments Monday, Cornyn said only, “None of that has been discussed or decided,” and when the RNC began funding Moore’s campaign for the second time, Thune said he didn’t “understand” the move, adding that it was “consistent with what the president wants to see.”
Smiling and walking through the Capitol Wednesday morning, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) confidently shared his takeaway.
“Alabamians didn’t want somebody who dated 14-year-old girls,” Johnson said.
But on Monday, Johnson wasn’t nearly as confident, “Let’s see what happens tomorrow night and then we’ll respond to it,” he said.
Trump, too, tried to backtrack Wednesday.
“The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange… is that I said Roy Moore would not be able to win the General Election,” the president tweeted.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — who told CNN Monday, “We’ll see what the people of Alabama say” — echoed his new favorite president Wednesday, tweeting, “When it comes to Alabama politics Steve Bannon should have followed President [Trump’s] lead in supporting Luther Strange. Trump’s instincts on the Alabama race proved to be correct.”