Senate Republicans breathed a big sigh of relief Tuesday night when Roy Moore went down to defeat in the Alabama special election -- even though it halved their already razor-thin majority. Alabama voters rejected a man who was totally unfit to serve as U.S. senator, not just because of numerous allegations that he preyed on young girls when he was a local district attorney in his 30s but because his reverence for the Constitution was as phony as his 10-gallon hat.P
But the race might have turned out differently had it not been for the courage of my home state's junior senator, Colorado's Cory Gardner, who announced that the National Republican Senate Committee, which he leads, was pulling its financial support after The Washington Post printed stories detailing Moore's alleged abuse. The Senate Leadership Fund, run by former members of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's staff, followed suit, drying up funds for the Moore campaign and signaling to donors that contributing to Moore was toxic. The Republican National Committee briefly froze its joint fundraising efforts on Moore's behalf but jumped back aboard the Moore train after President Donald Trump, eight days before the election, tweeted, "We need Republican Roy Moore to win." Once Moore lost the race, however, Trump pretended he was never in Moore's camp, reminding everyone he had supported Moore's runoff opponent in the GOP primary, Luther Strange, because Moore wouldn't "be able to win the General Election."
Money can't always win an election with a bad candidate, but had the NRSC and other Republican political action committees poured the $5 million they could have into the race during the last weeks of the election, Moore might have squeaked through. Despite the serious and credible allegations against him, Moore still only lost the vote by 1.5 percentage points. White women overwhelmingly voted for Moore -- 63 percent, according to exit polls -- including a slim majority of college-educated white women. But as surprising -- shocking, given the allegations against Moore -- as those numbers might be, they reflect lower support than Republican candidates usually garner in Alabama. Had Moore done as well among all white voters as Republicans in previous elections, he'd be riding his horse up to the Capitol, which is why the decision by Sen. Gardner and other Republicans who put country before party mattered.
Gardner wasn't alone among courageous Republicans. The senior senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, announced just two days before the election that he had cast his absentee ballot for a write-in candidate because he couldn't vote for Moore. Sens. John Boozman of Arkansas, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Steve Daines of Montana, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah, John McCain of Arizona, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Gardner and Shelby in unequivocally coming out against Moore. Other Republicans said the allegations -- if true -- were disqualifying but fell short of saying that voters should reject Moore outright.
This was an important test in the era of Trump. The president is the leader of his party, but Gardner and others showed that they can make their own decisions based on the evidence and their convictions. For years, the GOP has presented itself as the values party. But with Trump's election, many in the party have been put in a bind. Trump's history -- including allegations of his groping and demeaning women, not to mention his own words on tape that he could "grab them by the (genitals)" -- has cast doubt on whether the Republican Party represents family values anymore. Maybe the courage of Republican senators who rejected Moore's candidacy will usher in a new commitment to character in the party.
Gardner represents the future of the Republican Party, not its past. If Republicans are to have any hope of winning young voters, women (outside of whites in the Deep South) and larger shares of Hispanics and blacks, it needs to turn its back on the Roy Moores of the party and follow the leadership of the Cory Gardners.
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