How the mighty have fallen. Just a month ago, conservative firebrand Roy Moore defeated Luther Strange in the Republican primary for Alabama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Moore, a fringe candidate backed by Steve Bannon and his ilk, surprised the country by crushing Strange and his establishment backers. Yes, that was only a month ago. However, the primary seems a lifetime away after a bombshell dropped just two weeks ago: four women accused Moore of sexual advances when they were under 18 years old.
The ensuing media circus has felt like a dark satire gone wrong. Five more women have come forward with similar stories, yet Moore continues to deny any wrongdoing. Some extreme Alabama conservatives have suggested that voting for a pedophile is better than voting for a Democrat. Senate Republicans are actively thinking about refusing to seat Moore in the Senate, should he be elected.
How will this situation play out? There are only a few possible scenarios. The first option is Roy Moore buckles under the increasing pressure and drops out of the race. This seems like a pretty clear-cut solution, one might say; Moore drops out, another Republican like Strange or Attorney General Jeff Sessions steps in, and the race just continues on. The reality, unfortunately, is not so easy. Under election rules established by the state of Alabama, it is already far too late to change the ballot before the election on December 12. That means Moore’s name will appear on the ballot, regardless of whether he is still running and the name of his hypothetical Republican replacement would not appear on the ballot at all. If Moore does drop out, all hope is not lost, as a write-in campaign is possible. The chance such a campaign would succeed in this election is highly unlikely for several reasons: many voters being unmotivated to vote for someone not on the ballot, voters confused over why Moore is on the ballot and the replacement is not, and hardline Moore supporters splitting the conservative bloc by voting for him anyway.
Replacing a candidate in an election campaign halfway through is an uphill battle where not many see the other side. In the 2004 election for an Illinois U.S. Senate seat, the Republican candidate, Jack Ryan, dropped out with three months to go before the election. The Illinois GOP never recovered and their replacement lost when Barack Obama won a whopping 70 percent of the vote. In Alabama today, the election is less than a month away. The last time a Senator was elected as a write-in candidate, in 2010, Lisa Murkowski had the entire campaigning period to sway Alaskan voters. Moore’s hypothetical replacement would have about two weeks.
The other option is Moore stays in the race. Even in the face of increasing pressure and more accusers, this is a very real possibility for someone with the ardent personality of Moore. Outright victory in the election is becoming more unlikely as the days pass, as the two most recent polls have the Democrat Doug Jones up by a significant margin: eight points, according to Fox News and five points ahead, according to Gravis. What seemed impossible just a couple weeks ago, a Democrat winning the ruby red state of Alabama, is now a distinct possibility.
If Moore stays and campaigns his heart out, even victory would likely end in failure. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have voiced their disdain for Moore and have even suggested expulsion if he is elected. Expulsion, however, is a figurative nuclear option and is extremely unlikely. A Senator has not been expelled from the chamber since the Civil War. If Moore managed to win the election, he could expect similar treatment to Roland Burris, the Illinois politician appointed to Obama’s Senate seat when the latter won the Presidency. Burris was initially rebuked by the Senate and was refused his seat for half a month, followed by two months of impeachment proceedings against him before the Senate gave up. While the Senate may not expel a Senator Moore, it will certainly use its power to make his job difficult. Moore in the Senate would delegitimize the Republicans’ power and especially the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, someone who likes his power very much and likes Moore very little.
Regardless of the outcome, the Roy Moore fiasco is a detriment to the Republican cause. For a party that could be already running on fumes shortly after winning the Presidency, the Alabama special election may herald the fall of Republicans when the midterm elections roll around next year.