On Tuesday afternoon, Trump delivered a full-throated endorsement of Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, even though Moore is facing multiple allegations of child sex abuse. Trump framed his support for Moore primarily as a political decision, based on the necessity of maintaining the slim Republican majority in the Senate. “I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat — Jones,” Trump said.
This explanation was largely accepted in the press. It’s “about policy and not the sexual abuse allegations,” an unnamed White House source told CNN. “The White House knows they cannot afford to lose an ‘R’ vote in the Senate.”
The most important policy for the White House at the moment is tax reform, which faces a narrow path in the Senate. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes for the legislation.
But there is considerable evidence that Trump is not making decisions based on a desire to secure as many votes as possible for his tax bill in the Senate.
For example, in a recent Twitter rant, he personally attacked Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and declared Flake was opposing his tax plan.
Sen. Jeff Flake(y), who is unelectable in the Great State of Arizona (quit race, anemic polls) was caught (purposely) on “mike” saying bad things about your favorite President. He’ll be a NO on tax cuts because his political career anyway is “toast.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
Flake had not actually said he was voting against Trump’s tax plan and may still support it. But Flake’s crime was saying that the Republican party was “toast” if it continued to follow Trump’s lead. Trump made clear that his priority was his own self-image, not vote whipping for his tax bill.
Trump has taken a similar approach with Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), another crucial vote in the tax debate who has been critical of Trump.
Isn't it sad that lightweight Senator Bob Corker, who couldn't get re-elected in the Great State of Tennessee, will now fight Tax Cuts plus!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2017
Again, Trump is unconcerned with Senate vote counting. He’s concerned about his image. So it’s unlikely that the upcoming tax vote in the Senate, or any other Senate votes, is driving his thinking on Moore.
Rather, Trump appears to be deeply committed to the idea that women are liars. Trump is setting the standard that no matter how many women step forward, we should believe a man’s denials.
“Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said 40 years ago this did not happen,” Trump said on Tuesday.
This standard, which has been rejected by nearly all Republicans in Congress and his own daughter, is extremely important to Trump. After all, there are 14 women who have publicly alleged sexual assault against Trump. Trump called all of these women “horrible liars.” Trump is effectively alleging a massive conspiracy involving dozens of women (and men who corroborate their stories) to falsely accuse him of sexual assault. His White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, repeated the claim this month when asked if “all of these women are lying.”
In this context, a Moore victory would serve two important purposes for Trump. First, it would provide further validation from an electorate that women who allege sexual assault and harassment are liars. It would specifically validate the idea that many women will secretly conspire to lie about sexual assault for political purposes. Second, it could discourage more women from coming forward with claims against men in power since it would seem as if their stories can be easily dismissed.
This second rationale could be particularly important to Trump if there are other women with allegations against him who have not yet stepped forward.
After Trump’s victory in November, the sexual assault allegations against Trump by more than a dozen women largely faded from the public discussion. But after blockbuster reports in the New York Times and the New Yorker exposing Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator, the cultural environment has changed and more people have felt empowered to speak publicly about allegations of abuse and harassment. This poses significant risks for Trump. A Moore victory, despite allegations of child sex abuse, might be the last opportunity to cool things off.