On Tuesday night, Sean Hannity gave Roy Moore a 24-hour ultimatum: “remove all doubt” about the numerous credible sexual misconduct allegations made against him — including an accusation that he molested a child — or get out of the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions.
A satisfactory defense was not forthcoming, but by Wednesday evening, Hannity changed his tune. Instead of calling for Moore to leave the race, Hannity said on his Fox News broadcast that he was “very confident” Alabama voters would “make the best decision for their state.”
So what changed from Tuesday to Wednesday? According to CNN, former White House senior strategist and current Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon intervened.
Bannon — a staunch Moore loyalist — “called Hannity following his Tuesday night ultimatum and urged the host to dial back his harsh criticism,” CNN reported, citing a source with knowledge of the conversation. And it appears Hannity obliged.
The talking point Hannity used on Wednesday — that Alabama voters will just have to make their own decision about Moore — was also used by the White House during a press briefing on Thursday. Peppered with questions about Trump’s position on Moore, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to rescind Trump’s endorsement, and wouldn’t even rule out that Trump would still vote for Moore if he could.
Asked if Trump’s “endorsement of Moore still stands,” Sanders said, “the president believes this is a decision for the people of Alabama to make, not one for him to make.”
Sanders’ use of the same talking point as Hannity, according to reports, isn’t a coincidence. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times tweeted that Bannon has also been in touch with Trump and reminded him of where his base stands on Moore.
It remains to be seen if Hannity and Trump’s refusal to break with Moore will be enough to save a U.S. Senate seat that seemed to be securely in Republican hands until the misconduct allegations against Moore went public. A Fox News poll released Thursday showed Moore’s Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, ahead by a 50- to 42-percent margin. Other recent polls show Moore maintaining a lead.
Either way, Bannon has successfully carved out political space for Moore by convincing both Hannity and Trump to withhold judgement. While their actions might not be sufficient for a Moore victory, they are giving Moore a much better chance to succeed.
Meanwhile, Moore supporters have been using lies to try and discredit Moore’s accusers.