The Slatest

Republican Senate Leader Changes Tune on Roy Moore, Says Alabama Must Decide

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks from the Senate chamber to his office December 1, 2017 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

It was only a few weeks ago that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky appeared to draw a line in the sand when it came to GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is running in the December 12 special election. But now he appears to be making a clear switch with the intent of welcoming the former judge into the Senate even though numerous women have said he made sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers.

“I’m going to let the people of Alabama make the call,” McConnell said on ABC’s This Week.

When asked whether the Senate could “take action” against Moore if he’s elected, McConnell washed his hands of the issue, saying it was up to the Senate Ethics Committee. “The Ethics Committee will have to consider the matters that have been litigated in the campaign should that particular candidate win,” McConnell said. “The Ethics Committee will handle this in the regular ordered way that we do this in the Senate. And I’m confident they’ll come up with the right conclusion.”

That marks quite the change from a few weeks ago when McConnell said that “Roy Moore should step aside” because “the women who’ve come forward are entirely credible.” Speaking at a press conference on Nov. 14, McConnell went even further, saying that Moore is “obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate, and we’ve looked at all the options to try to prevent that from happening.”

The apparent change of heart shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise. As Slate’s Will Saletan wrote Friday, it has seemed evident that Moore’s Republican colleagues are getting ready to argue “that voters, by electing him, cleared him of sexual misconduct.” How was Saletan so sure about this? Because that’s exactly what they did with Trump.

McConnell’s shift in tone on Moore came as the latest poll by CBS News claims the Republican candidate has a clear lead—49 percent to 43 percent—over his Democratic opponent among likely voters. The poll reveals that turnout will be key though because when all registered voters are taken into account, the results are split pretty evenly. But for now at least, it seems the sexual misconduct allegations haven’t made much of a dent on Moore’s support from Republicans, 71 percent of whom describe them as false.  

At the end of the day though, it’s likely pollsters don’t really have much of a clue what will happen in Alabama. Politico explains why:

The most important and closely watched election in the nation is taking place in the equivalent of a polling black box. There are no established, in-state polling institutions or dominant regional media outlets to fill that void. Since it’s not typically a politically competitive state, outside pollsters don’t have much experience in Alabama either. Outside of Fox News and a Washington Post poll released Saturday, national media outlets or major pollsters haven’t yet stepped forward to survey the race.

On top of all that, the Alabama Senate race is a special, off-year election being held just before Christmas — layering on more elements of uncertainty and mystery.