Weak Suit

Roy Moore’s effort to overturn the Alabama Senate election shows the derangement of the Trump era.

Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore waits to speak about the race against his Democratic opponent Doug Jones during his election night party on Dec. 12 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Roy Moore, the former Alabama judge and accused molester, isn’t taking no for an answer. In a lawsuit filed this week, Moore, who lost a special election for the U.S. Senate by nearly 22,000 votes earlier this month, blames his defeat on electoral fraud and demands a do-over. A court has rejected Moore’s request to block certification of the election results. But the lawsuit, even if it goes nowhere, is a marvelous compilation of the derangements of the Trump era. Here’s a tour of its perversity.

1. The polls are real. The votes are fake. Politicians have always fudged facts, but they used to accept the idea of a common truth. Donald Trump has trashed that consensus, dismissing as “fake news” anything he doesn’t like. He touts polls when they favor him, and he calls them phony when they don’t. Moore’s campaign copied that tactic. “Fox News can put out their fake polls,” said Moore’s chief strategist, Dean Young, at a Nov. 22 press briefing, “but he’s still winning.”

Except Moore didn’t win. So he and his advisers switched arguments. Now, they argue that the polls were accurate (the ones that showed Moore ahead), and the election is suspect. “The reported results” are “contrary to most of the impartial, independent polls conducted prior to the Special Election,” says Moore’s lawsuit, and therefore the results “should be investigated.” The ease with which Trump and Moore reclassify fake things as real, and real things as fake, shows that they don’t care what’s real or fake. They care only about what serves them.

2. The only way I can lose is through cheating. Trump insists that millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote last year. Moore offers a similar excuse. His lawsuit frets that in some Alabama precincts, there was an “implausible, unexplained 35% drop in votes for Roy Moore relative to the vote share of the Republican Party straight-line votes.” (Voters were allowed to mark their ballots for Jones or Moore or to skip the candidates’ names and cast a “straight party” vote for the Democratic or Republican slate.) This gap, according to the suit, “strongly suggests a systematic diversion of votes … from Roy Moore to his opponent.”

Even if you set aside the crackpot conspiracy theorists whom Moore cites in support of this theory, it’s a statistical scam. His analysis packs his worst precincts together so he can call them “anomalous.” He also doubles the size of the putative anomaly by claiming, without evidence, that his underperformance relative to GOP party-line votes produced an equivalent boost in votes for his opponent, Doug Jones. But the obvious hole in Moore’s theory is that he has always performed worse than other Republican nominees in Alabama elections, even before a raft of allegations that Moore dated, and in some cases assaulted, teenage girls. The reason why many voters marked their ballots for the GOP, not for Moore by name, is that Moore was repellent.

3. Self-policing is incriminating. In the upside-down culture of Trumpism, a party that acknowledges and expels its accused sexual harassers, such as Sen. Al Franken, is a party of sexual harassers. But a party that protects its accused harassers, such as Trump, is innocent. An administration that falsely denies any contact with Russians is blameless, but a special counsel who faithfully expels subordinates for political bias is compromised. The honesty of people who face and correct their own flaws is just another political weakness to exploit.

Moore uses this strategy against Alabama’s Republican Secretary of State John Merrill. During the election, according to Moore’s lawsuit, Merrill investigated and ordered the removal of false ads against Moore. Merrill also investigated a person who was thought to be an illegal out-of-state voter (the suspicion proved false) and verified that sample ballots marked for Jones were properly discarded. Instead of conceding that Merrill did his job, the lawsuit says these episodes prove the election was ruined by fraud, because they “required the Secretary of State to take action.”

4. Take it from me: I’m honest. Trump sells lies to the public by adding the words Believe me. Moore substituted a Christian version, assuring audiences that he was too godly to have molested teenage girls. In his lawsuit, Moore adds an appeal to science: “Plaintiff Roy Moore has successfully completed a polygraph test confirming that the representations of misconduct made against him during the campaign are completely false.”

Polygraphs are notoriously unreliable. When they work, it’s largely by scaring liars, not detecting them. But some people commission polygraphs in the hopes of persuading the public that they’re innocent. Rick Pitino, the college basketball coach, took a test on Oct. 6 and released the results to the media, hoping to clear his name in a recruiting scandal. Jack Latvala, a Florida state senator accused of sexual harassment, took a test on Nov. 8 and released his report as well. In each case, the report was signed by the polygraph examiner and specified the questions that were asked.

Moore, in the appendices to his suit, provides no such report. All he offers is an affidavit signed by him. “Within days after the December 12, 2017 special general election,” he asserts, “I agreed to a polygraph examination by a licensed member of the Alabama Association of Polygraph Examiners.” Moore claims that “the results of the examination reflected that I did not know, nor had I ever had any sexual contact with, any of these individuals.” The affidavit doesn’t disclose what questions were asked. It doesn’t specify the date of the exam or even name the examiner. Moore’s campaign has ignored press queries seeking more information about the test.

When guys like Pitino and Latvala release polygraph reports, we have reason to be suspicious. We don’t know whether they took several polygraphs and released only the tests on which they scored best. Nor do we know whether their lawyers shaped the exam questions (since they were paying for the tests) to avoid being caught in lies. But Moore’s affidavit tells us much more. It tells us that he couldn’t find even one examiner willing to certify that Moore, without signs of deception, answered an acceptable set of questions about the charges against him.

When Alabama voters went to the polls on Dec. 12, they faced two questions. The first was whether Moore had the character to serve in the U.S. Senate. The second was whether a plurality of the electorate, regardless of Moore’s character, preferred him to Jones. Moore’s lawsuit has failed to raise sufficient doubt about the second question. But it has answered the first question: He’s a fraud.