On ABC’s This Week Sunday morning, George Stephanopoulos drilled White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short for answers as to whether President Trump still supports Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. At least half a dozen times, Short dodged blatant yes-or-no questions, leaving room for Trump to be satisfied if Moore ends up winning the special election next month.
Short started the interview by hanging his hat on the “if true” caveat — that Trump would believe the allegations are disqualifying only if they were somehow proven to be true. As the White House has said on other occasions, Trump is essentially washing his hands of it by leaving it up to the people of Alabama to decide.
But Stephanopoulos was unsatisfied with these responses and pressed Short to clarify whether Trump actually believes the women who have made accusations against Moore. “Obviously, George, if he did not believe the women’s accusations were credible, he would be down campaigning for Roy Moore. He has not done that. He has concerns about the accusations,” Short said. The implication seemed to be that Trump’s lack of campaigning should be seen as a condemnation of Moore.
But then Short immediately began defending Moore too. “But he’s also concerned that these accusations are 38 years old, Roy Moore has been in public service for decades, and the accusations did not arise until a month before the election,” he continued. “So we’re concerned about several aspects of the story; we’re very concerned about the allegations, but at this point, as I’ve said, we think it’s best for the people of Alabama to make the decision for them.”
Stephanopoulos pointed out that Short still had not actually answered whether Trump believes the women, but Short insisted that he had. As the back-and-forth continued, Stephanopoulos asked Short several times to clarify with yes-or-no answers about Trump’s ongoing support for Moore and whether he believes the accusers, but Short could not provide those simple answers, again leaning on the people of Alabama.
Eventually, Stephanopoulos asked whether it would be the “right decision” if the people of Alabama did, in fact, elect Moore. “I think that the right decision will be what the people of Alabama decide,” Short replied.
Before the allegations came to light, Trump openly supported Moore, having quickly endorsed him after he won the Republican primary. When asked about Moore’s many controversial opinions, such as past support for criminalizing homosexuality and barring Muslims from serving in Congress, Trump dodged the question, crediting the people of Alabama for liking Moore.
Short’s waffling responses reflect comments White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made Friday when she defended Trump for attacking Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) over allegations against him, despite having called his own accusers liars and not similarly attacking Moore. “I think in one case specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing. The president hasn’t. It a very clear distinction,” she explained, seeming to pin liability on specific admissions of guilt. She also went on to say that Moore could still sue his accusers, a point that Short echoed Sunday.
It’s also not a new tactic for Trump to defer to the states to avoid taking a side on a controversial issue. Over the course of his campaign, for example, Trump’s position on transgender rights (which Moore notably opposes) slowly shifted from indifferent support to “hopefully the states will make the right decisions.” Just like the equivocating over the allegations against Moore, Trump said at one point, “I don’t view it as civil rights or not civil rights.” By relying on ambiguous language and deferring responsibility to other decision-makers, Trump attempts to play both sides of the issue while still holding out for an outcome that benefits him.
In this case, if Moore wins, Trump stands to gain by holding onto a Republican seat in the Senate, while creating the appearance that he’s not standing by someone accused of sexual abuse. When Stephanopoulos asked Short if Trump would work with Moore as a Senator, Short confirmed, “The president works with all members of Congress. That’s his role.”