As head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group charged with holding and expanding his party’s slim Senate majority, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has walked a fine line when it comes to Roy Moore.
He’s not doing that anymore.
In a statement issued Monday after a fifth accuser came forward to say that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager and he was an adult, Gardner said Moore should not continue his candidacy and that if elected, the Senate should vote to expel him.
“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office,” Gardner said in his capacity as chair of NRSC. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”
While other Republicans have called on Moore to quit the race for Alabama’s Senate seat, Gardner appears to be the first person — at least of this prominence — to say Moore should not be allowed to serve.
The NRSC had already cut off joint fundraising with Moore, but Gardner’s initial statement last week after the Washington Post first reported on accusations against the candidate contained more cautious language.
“The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are deeply troubling, Gardner said last week. “If these allegations are found to be true, Roy Moore must drop out of the Alabama special Senate election.”
Slowly, other Republicans are dropping the “if true” qualifications in their statements about Moore. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday, “I believe the women.”
Moore is running to fill the senate seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions became President Donald Trump’s attorney general. U.S. Sen Luther Strange was appointed to fill that seat, but he lost a primary to Moore, who ran with backing from former White House advisor Steve Bannon.
He was, to put it mildly, a problematic candidate even before the Washington Post reported the stories of women who say Moore took them on dates, gave them alcohol and in one case molested them when they were teenagers and he was already a deputy district attorney in their area. Moore has twice been removed from the bench for refusing to obey judicial orders, said that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress and called the decision that legalized gay marriage worse than the Dred Scott decision that held that slaves are not citizens and are legal property.
The party establishment backed Strange in the primary, but after Moore prevailed, Gardner issued a tepid statement of support for the good of the party.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside Luther Strange in the Senate,” he said. “Big Luther worked tirelessly for Alabama families, and I appreciate how hard he fought to win this race. Our focus is always on keeping a strong Republican majority in the Senate, and that includes Alabama. Roy Moore will be imperative to passing a conservative agenda, and we support him in keeping this seat in Republican hands.”
Progressive activists jumped on Gardner’s support of Moore as evidence that Gardner is either more extreme than he presents himself to be or lacks the will to stand up to the more extreme elements of his party.
As The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews reported earlier this month, Gardner’s position as head of the NRSC has been increasingly challenging as he balances the demands of donors angry at the party’s ineffectiveness in Congress and the increasingly rightward populist pull of the party’s base.
Moore’s insistence on staying in the race could also threaten what should be a safe Republican seat. FiveThirtyEight reports that polls taken since the allegations were reported show Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones down by just two points. A Jones win is still seen as a long shot by most observers, but it’s more likely than it was a week ago. The special election is Dec. 12.