Now that Trump is on his way back to the United States and will be under intense scrutiny to weigh in on the Alabama Senate special election (to replace Jeff Sessions, current Attorney General of the United States), he should not endorse Roy Moore.
On his way back from an Asian junket, Trump has already deflected questions about embattled Senate Republican candidate Roy Moore. These questions will only continue to increase in both intensity and volume, journalists confidant that Trump will almost certainly be unable to ‘stick to the script’ and restrain himself from expressing his opinion.
Speaking of the ‘script’, the White House has already released a statement that Trump believes Moore will “do the right thing and step aside” if the allegations are true.
That’s a very, very big caveat, leaving Trump plenty of room to find a way to endorse Moore if he continues to deny the allegations. Almost certainly, Trump’s instincts are to endorse Moore, the candidate he regrets not endorsing in the Republican primary.
But, there is almost no upside to Trump endorsing Moore, whereas the downside risks to him, the Republicans Party, Trump’s agenda and Trump’s own power are formidable.
First, by endorsing Moore, Trump will solidify the perception that he is a misogynist. Remember, Trump lost the female vote 54% to 42% in the 2016 Presidential election. That gender gap has only widened since: 59% of 2016 female voters now view Trump as biased against women. Trump’s surprise 2016 victory relied primarily upon white college educated women who backed the Republican candidate (by 6 points) despite his own history of allegations of rape, attempted rape, sexual battery, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. In Virginia’s recent Gubernatorial special election, the Republican Trump-esque candidate lost the white college educated female vote by 16 points. It is all but inconceivable that Trump could repeat anything close to his stunning 2016 upset if he continues to bleed support among white college educated women, which he undoubtedly will if he openly backs Moore.
Second, and in a related vein, Trump will no doubt remind voters of his own sordid history of allegations of rape, attempted rape, serial sexual battery, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, a reminder that will continue throughout Trump’s presidency (so long as Moore remains in the Senate), and into the 2020 presidential election if Trump decides to run again. If Trump were to openly embrace Moore now, it would be a daily reminder of his own (similar) past, a constant association that will shadow Trump throughout the remainder of his presidency.
Third, by endorsing Moore, Trump will crown the ascendancy of Steve Bannon as the true power behind the throne, neutering himself in the process. Bannon has openly declared war upon Trump’s Republican Party, declared the Trump presidency over (after being ousted from the White House by Trump’s Chief-of-Staff John Kelly), and predicted Trump has only a 30% chance of surviving his first term as president. If Trump meekly follows Bannon and Moore does win, it will be Bannon who will get all the partisan credit (because he is a partisan) empowering Bannon’s agenda, while Trump will assume all the scorn for his association with such an unsavoury candidate (because, despite what Trump thinks, at least as demonstrated by his behaviour thus far, he is not properly a partisan, but actually president of all Americans).
Fourth, there is little reason to believe that Trump’s endorsement is even necessary. A Democratic Senate candidate hasn’t won in Alabama in 27 years! Alabama is won of the deepest red states in the Union. Trump won Alabama in 2016 by almost 26 points. 90% of Trump supporters indicated they were not affected by the infamous Access Hollywood tape that showed Trump openly admit to, and brag about, having committed serial sexual battery. Another poll found that 11% of Republican voters had a more favourable view of Trump after viewing the Access Hollywood tape that showed Trump openly admit to, and brag about, having committed serial sexual battery. In fact, a Alabamian Republican female representative (Martha Roby) lost support in Alabama (losing 18% points and dropping below 50%) after she retracted her endorsement of Trump after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape that showed Trump openly admit to, and brag about, having committed serial sexual battery.
Fifth, the Republicans can actually afford to lose the Alabama Senate seat because the Republicans hold a 2 seat majority in the Senate with Vice President Mike Pence serving as Trump’s loyal tie-breaker. Even if the Republicans do lose the seat, losing it because they took a moral stance will do them better come the 2018 midterm elections; whereas keeping it by embracing a man accused of such immorality tarnishes the Republican brand even further going into 2018. By keeping the damage to a single senate seat in 2017, the Republicans will remain on offense in 2018; but, filling the seat in 2017 with Moore will put almost all open Republican seats on the defensive in the 2018 midterms, threatening the Republican majority.
Sixth, if Trump’s presidency wasn’t already enough of a catalyst, his endorsement of Moore, and the Republican Party’s inevitable bowing to his will and seating Moore in the Senate, would skyrocket the passions of the Democratic base – all but ensuring a ‘blue wave‘ in 2018 that could flip both the House and the Senate giving a majority to the Democrats and, if the wave extends to the state level (as it almost always does), it will break just in time for the 2020 census that will allow for redistricting in the Democrats’ favour.
Seventh, a Trump endorsement of such a controversial figure as Moore could continue to fracture the Republican party, at a time that divisions within Trump’s party has already cost him a shocking defeat in his most important legislative goal: the repeal of his hated predecessors eponymous Obamacare. Trump has already suffered unprecedented attacks from within his own party – if Trump backs Moore and Moore manages to lose in deep red Alabama, what little restraint remains in the Republican ranks could quickly disappear and it would be open-season for Republican attacks against the President.
Eighth, if a Trump backed Moore candidacy loses even in Alabama (a bastion of Trump country), Trump’s base may well start imploding – least of all from the perception that Trump’s base is abandoning him, which will only go on to accelerate such abandonment in a cycle of self-fulfilling political prophecy.
Ninth, and perhaps most importantly, if Moore does go on to lose even after a Trump endorsement, coming on the heels of the shocking defeat of a Trump-esque gubernatorial candidate in (what may be newly minted ‘blue’) Virginia, the Trump brand could be fatally tarnished heading into the 2018 midterm elections.
Finally, there is always the possibility that some more damaging allegations/information emerges between now and the special election which will vicariously taint all of Moore’s prominent supporters, Trump among them if he decides to publicly back Moore.
The bottom line is that though a Trump endorsement does little, if anything, to help him, his presidency, or the Republican Party (even a Moore victory merely preserves the status quo), Trump’s endorsement of Moore threatens to harm him, his presidency and the Republican Party heading into the 2018 midterms regardless of whether Moore wins.
Trump’s support is at historic record lows. He simply has no room for error. In the midst of the emerging #MeToo movement, the downside risks to Trump far, far outweigh the negligible (if non-existent) benefit he may gain from backing Moore now.
That’s why Trump should not endorse Moore.