WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday strongly endorsed Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for a U.S. seat here, prompting the Republican National Committee to restore its support for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls.
Trump’s endorsement strengthened what had been his subdued, if symbolically significant, embrace of Moore’s campaign. And the decision of the national committee, which severed ties to Moore just weeks ago, switched on a financial spigot that could prove crucial in the race’s closing days.
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“Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” Trump posted on Twitter on Monday, before he formally endorsed Moore during a telephone call. “We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more.”
Trump’s endorsement and the party’s machinations came a day after Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader, had stepped back from his earlier criticism of Moore, saying Alabama voters should “make the call” on whether to send Moore to the Senate. Taken together, the week’s developments suggested that Republicans were increasingly confident that Moore is well positioned to defeat Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, in next week’s special election.
But even as senior Republicans again coalesced around Moore, there were reminders that the party’s internal divide over its nominee remained. Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee in 2012, warned that Moore’s presence in Congress would be “a stain” on Republicans and the country.
“No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity,” Romney wrote on Twitter.
Although Moore appeared to be regaining important support in his party, some of his accusers pushed back at recent remarks in which he said he did not even know them, let alone behave inappropriately.
It is not clear whether the back-and-forth will do anything to change the contours of the race, which is especially close by the standards of a state where Republicans tend to rout their rivals, but many party officials believe that Moore has steadied his candidacy and that they should back — or at least avoid further antagonizing — someone who could soon be in the Senate.
McConnell, for instance, refrained Sunday from criticizing Moore or repeating earlier remarks indicating that the Senate might expel Moore if he were seated after numerous accusations of misconduct and unwanted overtures. Nine women have come forward in recent weeks to describe their encounters with Moore, including a woman who said that Moore molested her when she was 14 years old.
With the notable exception of Romney, many national Republicans seem to have shifted their approach: less active criticism of Moore and fewer threats of his swift expulsion from Congress, and more guarded comments, if any at all. Trump, though, could prove far more vocal about the race, especially when he appears Friday in Pensacola, Florida, which is within the Mobile, Alabama, media market.
Unlike many Republicans in Washington, Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct, never cut off Moore completely. On Nov. 21, he telegraphed his support when he repeated Moore’s denials of impropriety and attacked Jones. But until Monday, it was unclear how much more Trump would do to aid Moore’s campaign.
Many top White House officials were not aware that Trump intended to fully tie himself to Moore on Monday; as in so many instances, they found out about his decision from his posts on Twitter. West Wing officials said Trump simply wants Republicans to retain control of the seat that Attorney General Jeff Sessions held for 20 years, and he is willing
to avert his gaze from the allegations to stop Jones.
Speaking to a group of Republican senators last week, the president said he was not particularly enthused about Moore’s candidacy, but he felt like his victory would represent a better outcome than the election of a Democrat who would often oppose their agenda, according to a Republican official in the room for the conversation.
Two factors appear to have moved Trump. He likes to associate with winners, and Moore has apparently stabilized in the polls. Further, no other women have come forward recently to level additional accusations against Moore.
But Moore, who was twice effectively removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has been unable to outrun the accusations that became public last month.
Debbie Wesson Gibson, who has said she dated Moore for about two months when she was 17 and he was twice her age, showed The Washington Post a graduation card she said he had written to her. In scrawling script, it wished her a happy graduation and said, “I wanted to give you this card myself. I know that you’ll be a success in anything you do. Roy.”
In a text message on Monday night, a spokeswoman for the Moore campaign said that The Post was “reaching” and argued that the newspaper was “trying to write yet another story to distract from Doug Jones’ extremist liberal record.”
And last week, Leigh Corfman, who accused Moore of touching her over her underwear when she was 14, wrote her own letter in response to Moore’s denials.
“What you did to me when I was 14-years old should be revolting to every person of good morals,” Corfman wrote in the letter published by the Alabama Media Group. “But now you are attacking my honesty and integrity. Where does your immorality end?”
Some people quickly criticized the president for his endorsement. Paula Cobia, a lawyer for another of Moore’s accusers, said Trump was being hypocritical in advocating a border wall to keep out criminals while endorsing a Senate candidate “with multiple accusations against him for child molestation and sexual predation.”
Hours later, Cobia released a statement on behalf of Gloria Deason, who said that she dated Moore when she was 18, and that Moore lied when he said he did not know his accusers.
So far, the president’s preferred form of support for Moore has been to go after Jones, whom he criticized as a “puppet” of Democratic leaders in Congress. Electing Jones, he wrote on Twitter, “would hurt our great Republican Agenda of low on taxes, tough crime, strong on military and borders …& so much more.”
Yet in Alabama, where the state’s senior Republican lawmaker, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, cast a write-in vote for a Republican other than Moore, the ultimate value of Trump’s endorsement is unclear and perhaps even negligible. Although Trump easily carried Alabama when he was on the ballot, the candidate he preferred over Moore lost the primary runoff by 9 percentage points.
Still, Moore’s allies believe that the White House’s backing could help.
“The biggest benefit we get from this is momentum and excitement about the campaign,” said Bill Armistead, chairman of Moore’s campaign, who said Moore would not attend the president’s Pensacola rally.
On Monday in Auburn, a college town that is the cultural heart of a county where Trump won 59 percent of the vote, Andrew Orman said the president’s endorsement affirmed his support for Moore. And he thought it wise that Republicans in Washington seemed to be moving away from condemnation and toward insistence that Alabama voters should make up their own minds.
“Let the people use their own judgment or whatever,” Orman said.
But the president’s endorsement did not seem to matter to some voters, including supporters of Trump.
“I like Trump, I’m a fan of Trump,” said Kyle Smith, 20, who is studying to be a welder and said he needed more time to study the race. “But, I mean, I’m not making my decision off him.”
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