In a December runoff, I guess you get November surprises. This certainly qualifies as one.
The Washington Post is reporting Roy Moore, the longtime social-conservative politician and current U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama, had inappropriate contact with four teenage girls when he was in his early 30s. Moore is now 70 years old, so these incidents took place almost four decades ago. The girls were ages 14, 16, 17 and 18, respectively, at the time of each incident.
Importantly, all four women, who are now in their 50s, made these allegations in on-the-record interviews with the Post. They are named, and their stories about their interactions with Moore are described at length and in detail, and corroborated by friends who say they knew about the incidents at the time.
Moore has denounced the allegations as false, and the Post’s reporting as politically motivated.
The alleged inappropriate contact only went beyond kissing with one of the girls: then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman. But what’s most stunning about her story is how she and Moore supposedly met. From the Post’s story:
“It was early 1979 and Moore … was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.
“‘He said, “Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,” ‘ says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. ‘I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.’
“Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. …”
Think about that: The allegation is that Moore initiated this contact with a 14-year-old girl while supposedly keeping an eye on her for her mother in a courthouse.
The response from Moore’s would-be Senate colleagues has been swift, if a bit hedged:
You’ll notice a significant qualifier on each of those statements (and many of the others that have come out from other Republican senators, but not all of them): “If … true.”
These allegations are all on the record, with corroboration. The Post’s article reads like a very tightly reported story. Then again, Moore is denying the allegations, and they’re almost 40 years old at this point. It’s a matter of he said, she (and she and she and she) said — although the she’s have a lot more specifics on their side at the moment.
Moore is trying to play up the fact that these allegations have never surfaced before, even though this is his fifth run for statewide office over the past couple of decades. In the couple of years I covered him as an AP reporter in Montgomery, including the legal battle over his famous Ten Commandments monument and his ultimate removal from office as the state’s chief justice (the first time), I never heard anything along these lines.
What has changed, however, is that we’ve just gone through a remarkable month in which more women than ever before have stepped forward to accuse powerful men of sexual harassment or assault. We seem to have passed a tipping point since the initial Weinstein allegations. While such allegations were not uncommon before that, it has become clear that many, probably most, women with such experiences have been extremely reluctant for years to talk publicly about them. It is not unreasonable to think Moore’s accusers felt similarly before, and have become emboldened to speak out now.
(As if to underscore that point, the New York Times just published a story in which five women accuse comedian Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct.)
That shift doesn’t make the allegations against Moore true, but it does substantially weaken the argument they are being made at this time only out of political opportunism. In fact, one of the women told the Post she often votes for Republicans, including Donald Trump last year.
There are almost five weeks until the Dec. 12 election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. So while it’s unclear what the GOP will do, or even could do, in light of these allegations, there is some time for the party to make a decision. But not a lot. Given the way these stories have unfolded regarding Weinstein and some others, with some allegations leading to others, the party may be wary of making a quick decision to stand by Moore. I expect a great deal of pressure on Moore to step aside and/or the state GOP to withdraw its nomination of him, which reportedly means he wouldn’t be certified as the winner even if he gets the most votes. Perhaps Republicans could stage a write-in campaign for another campaign, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski waged and won in Alaska after being defeated in the primary in 2010 — although Alabama’s “sore loser” law apparently means, unlike Murkowski, defeated incumbent Luther Strange could not be that candidate.
In any case, it’s another black eye this week for a party that isn’t handling its accumulation of power very well.