On Monday, a fifth woman came forward to say that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore had acted inappropriately with her when she was a child. (In this case, the allegation includes sexual assault.) Soon after, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believes the women who have come forward, and a number of other Republican senators called for Moore to drop out of the race. Meanwhile, the New Yorker reported that Moore had most likely once been banned from a local mall; and AL.com spoke to residents of Gadsden who called his inappropriate behavior decades ago “common knowledge.”
To discuss the seemingly bottomless Roy Moore scandal, and Moore’s place in Alabama politics, I spoke by phone with John Archibald, a columnist at the Alabama Media Group. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed whether Moore’s predatory behavior was an open secret, why the Alabama Republican establishment is sticking by him, and why he will never bow out of the race.
Isaac Chotiner: What did you know, and when did you know it?
John Archibald: [Laughs]. Not enough, not soon enough, that’s for sure.
Joking aside, there are reports that around the area where Moore lived, this was known and stories had been percolating. How much had you heard?
I had not heard that. Gadsden is an hour north of here, and I’d like to write it off as that, but I have covered Roy Moore for a long time. The first I heard of this was about a week-and-a-half or maybe two weeks ago from another reporter who works with us and said he had heard it in a vague sort of way. And that was it. I had not heard all this talk. And I talked to a reporter up in the area who said they had not heard it either. So I don’t know. Now people are saying that everybody and their brother knew about it, but that has not been my experience.
Moore has a national reputation, but what is his reputation in Alabama?
Honestly it’s pretty much what you see is what you get. He has a devoted set of followers. They have always been less than people assumed. He has a pretty high floor, in that his supporters will come out and vote for him, but a pretty low ceiling, in that he turns a lot of people off. He has always been perceived as opportunistic. He was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court because, as a judge, when he was younger, he put up the Ten Commandments, of course knowing it would be ordered to be taken down, and was ordered to take it down. He played that into statewide office. He did the same game over again when he had the Ten Commandments monument rolled in and installed at the state Supreme Court knowing it would be taken down. It was taken down. He parlayed that into trying to run for governor. That didn’t work out but he used a foundation that was set up to defend him to support his family and get fame. And then, once re-elected to the Supreme Court, he pulled the same thing with the gay marriage ban.
The truth about Roy Moore is that he doesn’t really like being in office. He doesn’t really like being associated with it. What he likes is the fame he can get from creating a controversy based on his actions in that office.
I think his reputation nationally is more about being a true believer and ideologue, whereas you are describing him as more opportunistic, if there is a distinction there.
I think that’s true. But it’s hard to separate those two things. I have never seen anything, other than his desire to profit off of these things. I can’t say he was smart enough all along to look to the next step and say “this is how I am going to profit and support my family,” but as those things unfolded, that became a byproduct and he saw that it was an effective way to go. I don’t think he intended to get kicked off the bench necessarily, but this last time I think he saw it coming and it didn’t bother him that much.
It’s always risky to ask someone to tell you something the polls can’t, but what is your sense of where the race is?
I think today was big. I think the last accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, was really effective, and one of the things us old print guys hate to admit is that when you see the video it really has a different sort of impact.
Pivot to video.
Pivot to video, right. I think she was compelling, she clearly had the Gadsden accent. She sounded like someone from there, she looked like someone from there, she told the story with detail, and for people who see that, it is pretty hard to deny. But honestly I am still in a situation where up until today I would have bet you almost anything Roy Moore would win. I think that after the allegations in the Washington Post, people were quick to discredit them by talking about the liberal news media, and that seems to have resonated well with a lot of people. But after today, it’s starting to wear thin because the argument that’s it’s all politically motivated doesn’t mean that much. People can agree that, “hey this might have been released out of political motivation, but this is some creepy shit, you know what I’m saying?” You can say it was released politically, but you can’t excuse the behavior that has come pouring out.
Just for the record: There is no evidence that it was released out of political motivation.
Right, right. I am saying the argument people are making. Even if you want to buy into that weird argument people are making about “hey it was legal if she was 16” or whatever the crazy crap they are saying, even if you want to go there, it’s starting to look like…what was described today was a very serious sex crime.
It seemed like today was a little bit of a dam breaking for Republicans in Washington.
That was going to be my question.
It’s fairly fluid but, again, there are a number of people who are Republicans who are saying quietly behind-the-scenes that this is horrible, but the only person who has really expressed any reasonable questioning of it is the Governor, Kay Ivey, and she wasn’t very strong and said she would continue to vote for him.
I think it motivates his base, and motivates Doug Jones’s base. I think we will get a much higher turnout, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if he walked away with it.
I assume he is not going to resign.
Oh, hell no. That will never happen.