On Thursday afternoon, the Washington Post published on-the-record allegations from four women who said Roy Moore, a former judge and the Republican nominee in December’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama, pursued romantic and sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers. Leigh Corfman said that Moore introduced himself to her outside an Alabama courtroom in 1979, when she was 14 years old and he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. Corfman’s mother was waiting for a custody hearing, and Moore offered to watch the 14-year-old when her mother went inside the court. Moore got the girl’s number and took her out twice, Corfman said. The second time, he allegedly molested her and put her hands on his genitals.
“I wanted it over with,” she told the Post. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Her mother and two of her childhood friends corroborated parts of her story. Three other women, none of whom knew one another, said they were between the ages of 16 and 18 when Moore, still in his 30s, tried to date them. One was a high school student Moore met when he spoke to her class.
Moore, who is 70, has denied the accusations, calling them “completely false,” “garbage,” “the very definition of fake news,” and “a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post.” His campaign released a statement contending that “after over 40 years of public service, if any of these allegations were true, they surely would have been made public long before now.”
In the years before Donald Trump was elected president, observers might have expected that on-the-record, well-supported child molestation allegations would have tanked a candidate’s chances at winning elected office. That’s certainly not the case today! Moore’s friends in conservative media have been quick to blame the liberal press for lying and exaggerating his misdeeds. Sean Hannity asked on his radio show, speaking of Corfman, “Why do people wait in some cases 38 years? Is it about money?” A Breitbart editor argued on MSNBC that it was just fine for a 30-something Moore to pursue 16- and 18-year-old high-schoolers because the legal age of consent in Alabama was, and still is, 16.
Members of the Republican Party in Alabama are performing bizarre contortions of logic to justify Moore’s alleged molestation. A Toronto Star correspondent reports that David Hall, the chair of the Marion County GOP, said he didn’t “see the relevance” of the allegations because “it was 40 years ago.” “He was 32. She was supposedly 14,” Hall said. “She’s not saying that anything happened other than they kissed.” (She is.) Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler said that “even if” the story is true, it’s “much ado about very little.” He compared Moore to two Biblical figures, Zachariah and Joseph. “Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist,” Zeigler said. “Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” Zeigler also noted that Moore ended up marrying a woman 14 years younger than him—implying, perhaps, that his intentions were noble when he touched and kissed high-school-aged girls. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here,” Zeigler said. “Maybe just a little bit unusual.”
Some Republican senators, among them John McCain and Rob Portman, have called for Moore to step aside as a candidate in Alabama’s upcoming special election. And there is a kind of precedent here, as Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned earlier this year in the wake of a sex scandal, though his departure was spurred more by the misdemeanors he committed while covering up his affair than by the affair itself.
Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Moore will drop out, given that he’s committed to the “fake news” angle and his state party comrades still seem to love him. If he stays in the race, the chances that these allegations will harm his candidacy are vanishingly slim. He’s already called the whole thing made-up, and if he does back down and admit that the Post’s reporting is true, his allies have already furnished him with a playbook of excuses. It was a long time ago. It was a different era. It was all legal. It was consensual. It was just a kiss. And the Bible says sexual relationships between teenage girls and adult men are OK, even holy. He could also break out that old chestnut beloved by pastors accused of sexual abuse: Only God can judge me, and he has forgiven me for my sins.
For Moore to lose his race, Alabamans would have to be willing to put a Democrat in the Senate. Recent polls show that Doug Jones is trailing Moore by roughly 10 points. That’s impressive considering that Alabama went for Trump by a nearly 28-point margin. In 2016, the state re-elected its incumbent Republican senator, Richard Shelby, by a 28.2-percentage-point margin. The state hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1990.
Besides that, Republicans are remarkably forgiving of candidates who have been accused of—or admitted to—sexual assault. After the leak of the Access Hollywood video showing Trump bragging about grabbing women’s vulvas, 90 percent of surveyed Trump supporters in Ohio and Pennsylvania said it didn’t affect how they saw him. Another poll found that 11 percent of people who’d voted Republican in 2014 said the video made them view Trump more favorably, and 42 percent said it didn’t change their opinion of him at all. Only 12 percent said they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who continued supporting Trump after the video, and 42 percent said they’d be even more likely to vote for a candidate if he or she showed their support for Trump after the video aired.
In Alabama, Rep. Martha Roby, an incumbent and Republican who was reelected in 2014 with 67 percent of the vote, retracted her endorsement of Trump after the Access Hollywood video came out. Alabama voters and party leaders immediately punished her for her disloyalty. A local Republican women’s group revoked a speaking invite. Republicans in the district launched a write-in campaign for the primary challenger Roby had beaten months earlier. On election night, she squeaked by with 49 percent of the vote, while write-ins got 11 percent. This summer, an attack ad against Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama chastised him for his failure to formally endorse Trump. Brooks hit back by boasting that not only does he love Trump, but he had gone so far as to earmark a $2,500 PAC donation for the Trump campaign “at a time when many others were abandoning him after the release of the Access Hollywood video.”
The capacity of Republican voters to overlook and justify credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault cannot be overstated. Corfman, an alleged survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of Moore, told the Post that even she voted for Trump, who several Miss Teen USA contestants have accused of deliberately walking in on them while they were changing. Moore has garnered deep support in his state as he’s stoked voters’ fears of “abortion, sodomy, sexual perversion,” and “transgender troops in our bathrooms.” The predators are always elsewhere, not at the highest rungs of politics or behind the judge’s bench. Republicans have built entire campaigns on a manufactured epidemic of transgender people hiding in bathroom stalls waiting to molest children. But when one of their own is accused of such a crime, they respond along the lines of Bibb County GOP chairman Jerry Pow, who said on Thursday that he would vote for Moore even if he did commit a sex crime against an underage girl. “I’m not saying I support what he did,” Pow said. Supporting child abuse is one thing—supporting an alleged child abuser, to some in the GOP, is another.
*Correction, Nov. 10, 2017: This piece originally misspelled Jim Zeigler’s last name.