Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Moore trouble for Senate Republicans

Former Alabama Chief Justice and US Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Associated Press/Brynn Anderson
Former Alabama Chief Justice and US Senate candidate Roy Moore.

It’s decision time for Republicans, nationally and in Alabama.

Do they believe the credible allegations against Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and disavow him — or do they dismiss his odious behavior and rally round this creep of a candidate for the sake of preserving the GOP’s slender Senate governing margin?

It’s a clash between moral and political imperatives. Still, Democrats shouldn’t gloat. They, after all, have had a past president — Bill Clinton — credibly accused of rape, an allegation his admirers have dismissed or shrugged off over the years

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Credit where it’s due: After initially sidestepping the Moore matter with “if the allegations are true” formulations, more Republicans are making the right decision.

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Mitch McConnell, for example, said Monday that he believes the women who leveled sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, and called for him to leave the race. As did Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who regularly does the right thing. More than a dozen Republican senators have now said Moore should abandon the race or have disavowed him. Even Paul Ryan, the incredible shrinking Speaker, popped out of his gopher hole Tuesday to echo their calls.

Most of their disavowals came before Beverly Young Nelson’s explosive charge that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16, groping her, trying to pull off her shirt, and pushing her head toward his crotch. That bombshell follows accountsby four other women that Moore pursued relationships with them when he was in his 30s and they were between 16 and 18 years old. One says Moore initiated sexual contact with her when she was 14.

We now have the fascinating spectacle of this growing problem confronting a party whose president has himself been credibly accused by 15 or more women of grabbing or groping them — and indeed, who, in his pre-presidential incarnation, boasted that it was his sexual modus operandi.

Even if Donald Trump were so inclined, how can he credibly demand that Moore drop out of the Senate race? He has absolutely no moral suasion here.

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When this happens on the other side of the aisle, it’s easy for the opposition to demand action, of course. But when the putative offender is on one’s own side, the impulse is often to wish it away. Or disparage the woman or women making the assertions.

The Bill Clinton example is a little different in that it wasn’t until 1999, three years after his last campaign as a candidate, that Juanita Broaddrick publicly made her allegation that Clinton raped her in 1978, when he was attorney general of Arkansas and running for governor, and she was a campaign volunteer. Thus we don’t know what, if any, effect it would have had on support for Clinton, who was reelected with 49 percent of the vote in 1996. That said, there had been previous allegations of less serious, but still piggish, sexual misconduct. None of that seems to have affected the esteem in which Democrats hold the former president.

Nor, going further back, did the assertion by Selene Walters that Ronald Reagan forced himself on her in the early 1950s, occasion any real re-evaluation of Reagan. For that matter, JFK’s tawdry and exploitative affair with a college intern, who says he pressured her to give oral sex to a political aide, doesn’t seem to have much diminished the regard in which Americans hold him.

It’s obviously difficult for people to recontextualize past idols. And, as we’ve seen, it’s hard to separate current evaluations of character and judgments about believability from the prism of ideology. But perhaps that is now changing. Something important is clearly happening in America. At long last, a time of reckoning on sexual misconduct may have finally arrived.

It’s decades overdue.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.