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Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) announced her surprise retirement on Friday, opening up one of the nation’s most hotly contested swing districts and creating a possible headache for national Democrats.
“The time has come in my life to pause and decide on a different path,” she said in a statement.
Shea-Porter, a liberal community activist, had been in the middle of some of the toughest House races of the last decade. She first won her seat in 2006, campaigning stridently against the Iraq War, beat former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH) in a 2008 rematch, lost it to Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) in 2010, beat him in 2012, lost to him in 2014 and defeated him again in 2016 after Guinta struggled with corruption charges.
She’d never been a favorite of national Democrats due to her unrepentantly liberal views in the centrist district, but her fervent base support had helped keep her in the race and eventually won over some internal party critics.
She won the district last fall even though President Trump narrowly won it by 48 percent to 47 percent after President Obama carried it twice.
Her retirement is likely to create a scramble in New Hampshire politics, with a number of local politicians who may be interested in the seat.
Democrats are already talking up New Hampshire Executive Council member Chris Pappas (D) as a strong possible candidate, though he’s likely to face a primary.
On the GOP side, New Hampshire state Sen. Andy Sanborn (R) is squaring off against former local police chief Eddie Edwards (R) in the primary.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee insisted that there “is no doubt that Democrats will hold this seat” in a statement thanking Shea-Porter for her service, while the National Republican Congressional Committee said they “are confident we will turn this district red once again.”
Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore’s top supporter is a hardline Confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group.
Michael Anthony Peroutka (pictured on the right above, with Moore in 2011) has given Moore, his foundation and his campaigns well over a half-million dollars over the past decade-plus. He’s also expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison. Chief among them: He’s argued that the more Christian South needs to secede and form a new Biblical nation.
The close connections raise further questions about the racial and religious views of Moore, the former Alabama supreme court chief justice and the front-runner to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator.
There’s a long history of southern conservative politicians playing footsie with fringe groups that hold controversial views on race. But that’s become more fraught in recent years as the advent of YouTube, camera phones and campaign trackers has made it harder to keep those meetings quiet. It’s also become more controversial to speak to Confederate groups in recent years as parts of the South have changed and in the wake of murderous racist violence in Charleston and Charlottesville. But even by the old standards, Moore’s deep ties to Peroutka — and Peroutka’s views — stand out, as most of those groups weren’t actively calling for the South to secede again.
Peroutka, a 2004 Constitution Party presidential nominee who in 2014 won a seat as a Republican on the county commission in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, spent years on the board of the Alabama-based League of the South, a southern secessionist group which for years has called for a southern nation run by an “Anglo-Celtic” elite. The Southern Poverty Law Center designates the League of the South as a hate group (a designation Peroutka regularly jokes about). That organization, after Peroutka left, was one of the organizers of the Charlottesville protests last summer that ended in bloodshed.
During his 2004 presidential run, Peroutka made it clear to the League of the South which side of the Mason-Dixon Line he stood on.
“I come from Maryland, which by the way is below the Mason-Dixon Line. … We’d have seceded if they hadn’t of locked up 51 members of the legislature. And by the way, I’m still angry about that,” he told the group to applause.
In that speech, Peroutka praised his daughter for refusing to play the Battle Hymn of the Republic in her school band, called a visit to Confederate leader Jefferson Davis’ grave “beautiful,” praised his son for calling the Confederate rebel flag the “American flag” and said he’d wished that those in the room had been there during the Civil War fighting for the South.
“We could have used you, there should have been more of us in 1861,” he said.
And he made it clear that his anti-union views weren’t just in the past.
“Of course the South is this remnant of a Christian understanding of law and government where there is a God and government is God-ordained. That stands right in the way of this pagan understanding that the state, the new world order, is God,'” he continued, warning that secularists were out to destroy the South.
The League of the South broke its tradition against involvement in a federal political system they normally reject and endorsed Peroutka’s campaign.
Moore’s Own Views
Moore himself has addressed some extremist groups and made some racially charged comments — in addition to his inflammatory views that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress, that Sharia law is already being implemented in parts of the Midwest and that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.”
Moore led the charge against a 2004 state referendum to remove segregationist language from the Alabama state constitution, claiming that the amendment would somehow open up the state to possible education tax increases. The League of the South was also involved in helping to defeat the amendment, which fell by a narrow margin.
As Buzzfeed reported in 2015, back in 1995 Moore gave a keynote address to the Council of Conservative Citizens — a white supremacist group that Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof would cite as a key influence two decades later.
“I did not consider the Council of Conservative Citizens to be a ‘white supremacist’ group when I spoke to them 20 years ago,” Moore said in 2015, pointing out that other prominent Republicans like former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) had also spoken to the group. “I obviously highly regard the fundamental principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal.'”
As CNN recently reported, Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law hosted the League of the South’s annual “Secession Day” event in 2009 and 2010.
Rich Hobson, then the Foundation’s head and now Moore’s campaign manager, told the AP in 2010 that he’d been the one to grant the space to the League, not Moore, and said Moore’s foundation “is not involved in the meeting.”
Moore’s office is adorned with a portrait of Jefferson Davis and busts of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, though he’s claimed that’s because they’re fellow West Point graduates and not because they led the Confederacy.
Even during his current Senate campaign, Moore hasn’t shied away from racial controversy, continuing to question whether President Obama was born in the United States and referring to “reds and yellows” in the same breath that he lamented racial division. And Moore’s Facebook page shared memes claiming Obama was Muslim, as well as ones like this:
The League of the South has also helped to organize pro-Moore protests both times he was being removed from the Alabama supreme court, according to contemporaneous reports. But in spite of that visible support from the League of the South, his foundation hosting them while he was its president, and his deep ties to Peroutka, Moore has denied knowing about Peroutka’s and the group’s views.
When a Montgomery Advertiser reporter confronted him about Peroutka’s big donations to his state supreme court campaign in 2012, Moore denied he supported secession but refused to disavow Peroutka’s views because “I don’t know anything about it to be concerned or not concerned, but I have no idea what was said or what they stood for.”
Those who have closely watched Moore and Peroutka are skeptical.
“The fact that they are so close and Roy Moore promoted Peroutka, took him out of obscurity and helped him become the presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, says a lot,” Frederick Clarkson, an author with the liberal think tank Political Research Associates who has monitored Moore and Peroutka for decades, told TPM.
“League of the South is a violent secessionist group rooted in the theology of Christian Reconstructionism, states’ rights and white supremacy. There’s no question what they’re up to.”
The Maryland Confederate
Peroutka has been explicit about his support of the Confederacy — and his views haven’t exactly softened over the years.
“I don’t disagree with Dr. Hill at all that this [national political] regime is beyond reform. I think that’s an obvious fact and I agree with him. However, I do agree that when you secede or however the destruction and the rubble of this regime takes place and how it plays out, you’re going to need to take a biblical worldview and apply it to civil law and government,” he said. “I don’t want the people from the League of the South to for one minute think that I am about reforming the current regime and studying the Constitution is about reforming the regime. I, like many of you and like Patrick Henry, have come to the conclusion that we smelled a rat from the beginning.”
In case there was any confusion about his views, Peroutka closed his speech by asking the crowd to “stand for the national anthem” — and then played “Dixie.”
Video of Peroutka at the 2012 League of the South event courtesy Right Wing Watch.
He’s also argued the Civil War was about “consolidating power into the hands of a few people” like Washington politicians and New York bankers, not slavery.
Peroutka explicitly said he wasn’t a racist during his 2014 run — though in a press conference to prove it he twice dodged questions about his earlier secessionist comments.
Moore’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Peroutka told TPM via email that he has “made public statements regarding the issues you describe” and has “nothing further to add at this time.”
Peroutka and Moore share similar Christian Reconstructionist views of government. Both Moore and Peroutka have long questioned the basic right of the federal government to dictate what local officials do, arguing that’s beyond the power God and the Constitution grants to it, though Peroutka has gone much further, openly talking about secession.
They believe that America is a Christian nation, that government is limited to enforcing those rights bestowed by God, and anything else it attempts to do is fundamentally wrong and should be disregarded by the people and officials. That explains Moore’s refusal to follow the rule of law in both occasions he was forced to leave the state supreme court. Both explicitly reject the common interpretation of the separation of church and state, blame America’s woes on an abandonment of their theocratic view, and harken back fondly to a hazy earlier era where devout Christians alone ruled the land.
More than a decade ago, Peroutka found a kindred spirit in Moore, who had become a hero on the religious right by erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments at his courthouse and rejecting higher courts’ rulings to remove it. Moore was suddenly without a job after being kicked off the Alabama supreme court — and Peroutka seemed to have a perfect way to help him fill his days.
Soon, the two were barnstorming the country, with Peroutka giving Moore $120,000 for a speaking tour. The well-known Moore was being courted by members of the fringe Constitution Party as a presidential candidate, and often spoke at the same events as his previously little-known benefactor. When Moore announced he wouldn’t run, Peroutka stepped up — a self-funder who’d helped Moore travel the country and in return got to share his spotlight and boost his profile.
That was the first of many donations, most of them made through the Elizabeth Stroub Peroutka Foundation, a group run by Peroutka and his brother: $60,000 to Moore’s now-defunct Coalition to Restore America, and $249,000 from 2006 through 2014 to Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law.
Peroutka also gave a combined $45,000 to Moore’s two failed gubernatorial runs, and a total of $143,000 for his successful 2012 comeback to the state supreme court, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics, roughly one-tenth of his total money for the race.
The sum total of Peroutka’s donations to Moore, his causes and campaigns: at least $622,000 since 2004.
Screen shot from Moore’s Facebook video of Moore greeting Peroutka backstage on primary election night, Sept. 27, 2017.
Peroutka has also honored Moore on numerous occasions — including in 2007 when he had installed a replica of Moore’s Ten Commandments memorial on his Maryland farm and dubbed the area “Roy S. Moore Field.” Flying at the ceremony: the state flags of Alabama and Maryland, and the Confederate national flag. The stars and stripes were nowhere to be seen, according to coverage and photos from the liberal secular Americans United for Church and State and the liberal blog JewsOnFirst.
The two seem to have remained close. Peroutka maxed out to Moore’s current Senate campaign and appeared onstage at Moore’s primary victory rally in late September. Moore embraced him backstage after shouting an exuberant “This guy, this guy! Michael,” upon spotting him (it can be seen at 33 minutes into the Moore campaign’s Facebook livestream of the event).
As recently as 2015, Moore participated in a promotional video for Peroutka’s “Institute on the Constitution” — an organization set to teach a biblical view of the Constitution — calling Peroutka his “good friend.”
Promotional video from Peroutka’s group, the Institute on the Constitution.
The League of the South’s Dark Record
Peroutka has used his personal wealth to fund a number of right-wing causes over the years, from various anti-abortion and anti-gay groups to money to maintain Confederate monuments and grave sites to $1 million to the Creation Museum for the fossilized skeleton of an Allosaurous dubbed “Ebenezer.”
But his League of the South support has drawn the most ire. It convinced now-Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and other local Republicans to disavow Peroutka’s candidacy in 2014.
The group and its leader Michael Hill (the “Dr. Hill” Peroutka was referring to in his 2012 remarks) have become more openly militant in recent years, shortly after Peroutka left the group.
Hill has recently suggested organizing a violent “Southern Defense Force” militia in preparation for “guerrilla war,” predicted “race war,” and attacked “Organized Jewry.” He was a scheduled speaker at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville alongside former KKK head David Duke, and members of his group were caught on camera brawlingduring the violent protests there that ended up with a white nationalist ramming a car into a group of anti-racist protestors. In its aftermath, he wrote a Facebook post titled “Fight or die White man.” The group has had billboards reading “Secede” posted across the South since 2014.
While Peroutka repeatedly praised Hill in speeches as recently as 2012, he left when he was gearing up for a 2014 run for office, claiming he’d just found out top members opposed interracial marriage. He recently denounced as “outrageous” and “inappropriate” Hill’s pledge “to be a white supremacist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a homophobe, a xenophobe, an Islamophobe and any other sort of ‘phobe’ that benefits my people.”
But while the group has grown more extreme, its basic tenets haven’t shifted all that much since Peroutka was first involved. At the same 2012 League conference that Peroutka spoke, Hill made it crystal clear what he and the group stood for. It’s apparent Peroutka was listening, as he referred back to parts of Hill’s speech in his own.
“We want out and we want them out of here,” Hill said about the federal government, calling for a “New southern republic,” speaking out against interracial marriage and for the “Superiority of the Christian West.”
“If you can’t be proud of the fact that God created you as a white southerner and you can’t defend your patrimony then you ain’t much,” he said. “Look around. You all look like me. … You cannot deny when you look around in this room who makes up this movement.”
From the start, the group had long had ties with white supremacists. A founding board member, Jack Kershaw, was an ardent segregationist who’d served as the attorney of Martin Luther King’s assassin, erected statue of early KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest in Nashville, and repeatedly argued that slavery had been good for black people.
Longtime observers of the group called laughable Peroutka’s seeming shock about the group’s views.
“It’s pretty transparent bullshit that he couldn’t see racism in the League of the South until he ran for office,” said Miranda Blue, who has long tracked Peroutka and the League for Right Wing Watch and the liberal group People for the American Way.
And much as Peroutka’s claim he didn’t know about the League of the South’s motives is questionable, observers say Moore’s close ties with Peroutka are telling.
“These are the moral and political choices Roy Moore made with his close friend and financial backer, Michael Peroutka,” said Clarkson. “If he didn’t share substantial portions of the vision, why did he do those things?”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Peroutka’s middle name.
Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) has decided not to finish out his term in Congress, the latest fallout from the exposure of his extramarital affair — in which the ostensibly pro-life congressman asked his mistress to have an abortion.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), in an unusual statement, announced that Murphy is on his way out in two weeks.
“This afternoon I received a letter of resignation from Congressman Tim Murphy, effective October 21. It was Dr. Murphy’s decision to move on to the next chapter of his life, and I support it. We thank him for his many years of tireless work on mental health issues here in Congress and his service to the country as a naval reserve officer,” Ryan said.
The news comes one day after Murphy announced he wouldn’t run for another term — and just days after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette broke the news that Murphy had urged his mistress to have an abortion during a false pregnancy scare.
Murphy had an ardently anti-abortion record in Congress. He’d also been a fairly interesting congressman, crafting and helping push through major bipartisan mental health legislation in recent years.
Murphy’s western Pennsylvania district is fairly solidly Republican — President Trump won it by 58 percent to 39 percent — and it’d be a major but not impossible reach for Democrats to compete for it.
Former Vice President Joe Biden returned to the trail on Tuesday for an old friend in an unexpected place — and predicted a huge political upset in crimson red Alabama.
Biden stumped for former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D), who he’s known for decades, the first major surrogate to swing into the state in a budding effort to stop controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) from joining the Senate.
“When he wins this race it will send ripples throughout the country,” the former vice president predicted to raucous cheers. “But don’t do it for that reason. Do it for Alabama.”
Democrats are debating whether to heavily invest in Jones, who’s best known for successfully prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members who firebombed a Birmingham black church and killed four little girls decades after the murders, against Moore, best known for twice being thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court for rejecting the rule of law and defying higher court orders on gay marriage and a Ten Commandments statue.
Jones gave them another reason to take a close look on Tuesday with a rousing speech.
“They have told me time and again that this race is a long shot. Well, folks … when you are on the right side of history and the right side of justice you can do anything,” he declared.
Biden talked up Jones’ character in the speech before the big upset prediction.
“I can count on two hands the people I’ve campaigned for that have as much integrity, as much courage,” he said, saying Jones “helped remove 40 years of stain and pain from this state” with his KKK prosecution.
“This state has changed. Doug said no more. The Klan needed to know that justice would follow them to the gates of hell if need be,” he said before calling Moore an “extremist.”
Early polling of the race suggests Moore begins it with a single-digit lead — not a huge one, especially given how conservative Alabama is. Moore won his last statewide election with just 51 percent of the vote.
Former Rep. Tom Price’s (R-GA) move to President Trump’s cabinet opened up a seat that ended up costing national Republican groups $18.8 million to keep in their hands, part of the $60 million spent total on the most expensive House race in U.S. history. Now he’s been pushed out after spending hundreds of thousands of government money on unnecessary private jet travel.
Price was sworn into the cabinet as Health & Human Services secretary on February 10th — 231 days ago. That means the National Republican Congressional Committee, Congressional Leadership Fund, and other national Republican groups were forced to spend a whopping $81,490 for every day he was in the cabinet, burning through campaign cash like Price burned through jet fuel.
That’s $570,432 a week, $2.7 million a month.
Those groups aren’t exactly pleased with how things played out, and wouldn’t mind some payback.
“While it was certainly fun destroying [Democratic nominee] Jon Ossoff and attacking Nancy Pelosi for three months, I am hopeful Dr. Price will use his newfound fame and leisure time to jet around the country and help make up for some of the $7 million we spent on the Georgia special election,” Congressional Leadership Fund Executive Director Corry Bliss told TPM.
Democrats may have a real shot to pull off a shocking upset in Alabama’s Senate race, according to the first public poll released in the general election.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) leads former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) by 50 percent to 45 percent in a poll released Friday by campaign handicapper Decision Desk HQ, a fairly tight race.
Individual poll results should always be taken with a grain of salt, and this poll conducted by Opinion Savvy Research was only in the field for two days, shorter than the three-day stretch many reputable pollsters insist on. The only other recent public surveys of the race, from Emerson, found Moore up by a wide margin in one and Jones within four points in another, so more polling will be helpful to get a clearer picture of whether or not the race is truly competitive.
But if the results are even close to accurate, that should be a siren for Democrats that they should step up for Jones against the divisive Moore — a prospect they’re already seriously considering.
The survey seems close to what’s expected in an Alabama race — President Trump has a 55 percent approval rating in the poll, with 43 percent disapproving, almost identical to the numbers Gallup has found, and the sample was 24 percent African American, roughly in line with normal elections in the state. It’s also notable that Moore is so controversial that he’s running behind Trump in the deep-red state.
More pollsters are undoubtedly in the field to see whether Moore’s nomination might have put deep-red Alabama in play for December, and a clearer picture of the race will likely emerge in the next week or so of whether Democrats will seriously contest the race. But this survey should give them some cautious optimism that the reason Moore won just 51 percent of the statewide vote in 2012 is his own inherent weaknesses, and that they might be able to capitalize on internal GOP divisions and have a outside shot at an upset that would rock the political world.
National Democrats are seriously weighing whether to go big to try to keep controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) out of the Senate.
Following Moore’s solid primary victory over appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), Democrats are doing the research to see if there’s a real path for former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) over his divisive foe. And while they’re not ready to commit major resources to a state as crimson red as Alabama at this point, Senate Democrats are already making initial moves to support Jones with individual donations while voicing cautious optimism about having a shot at their first Senate victory in the state in nearly three decades.
“Alabama’s obviously tough territory but this is a special situation,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM on Thursday. “We believe Alabamans will want someone who they will be proud of, someone with character and integrity, and that’s Doug Jones. That is not Roy Moore.”
Democrats are clear-eyed that Moore remains the heavy favorite, and are wary about raising expectations. But they think there may be a path for Jones, who’s best known in the state for successfully prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black Birmingham church in 1963 and killed four little girls, against Moore, whose decades-long religious crusade against gay rights and secularism has alienated many business-oriented Republicans in the state. While no Democrat has won a statewide race in Alabama for nearly a decade, they point out that Moore won just 51 percent of the vote in his 2012 state Supreme Court win.
There’s been almost no public polling of the race, and a smattering of public and private surveys have shown a conflicting picture of the race. Some have had Moore up big, others show a tighter contest.
“A bunch of things need to happen to get us into a place where we can be competitive — and they’re all happening,” argued Jones adviser Joe Trippi, a veteran of a number of presidential campaigns including Howard Dean’s, which emphasized winning in deep-red territory long ignored by Democrats.
Jones may need as much structural as financial support. He announced he’d surpassed $1 million total raised on Wednesday and predicted he’ll eventually out-raise Moore, and his campaign says grassroots donations have jumped in recent days, but that’s likely about a fifth as much as he’ll need for his race. He also needs well-trained staff ready to help build a field operation from scratch in a state where Democrats have almost no infrastructure, a costly and more time-consuming process that takes early investment and needs to happen now.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is already providing logistical and organizational support to Jones, and is in regular contact with his campaign. The big questions the DSCC and other national Democratic groups are looking to answer before investing significant resources are whether enough Republicans might cross over to back Jones in a state President Trump won by a 28-point margin last fall and where racially polarized voting makes it extra tough for a Democrat to get much higher than 40 percent in statewide races.
That’s a daunting task, and Democrats are wary about overselling their chances, still stinging from a special election House defeat in Georgia and worried about wasting valuable resources ahead of a year where they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump won.
That tension was displayed when former DSCC Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), one of the senators facing a tough reelection, told TPM “you’ve got to play in the race” — but joked that it better not come at his own expense.
“If it’s going to take away from my race, absolutely not, no!” he said with a laugh.
“They’ve got to do the assessment on Alabama and if it looks like it’s possible to win, make the necessary investments to win,” he said, turning serious.
Those who know Jones best in Washington are pushing for the party to help him as much as possible.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) first met Jones back in 2002 — one of his top staffers who’d worked for Jones in Alabama introduced them early in his political career — and described him as “the greatest.” He thinks having Jones in the race — and Moore as the GOP nominee — has given the party a real chance.
“We went from probably a five percent chance of winning that race if Luther had been renominated to multiples of that. I’m not telling you it’s 50-50, it is Alabama, but Doug is very well-known and well-liked,” he told TPM. “We have a person who’s a great American hero in this race. Let’s support him.”
Kaine talked up Jones during a Democratic caucus luncheon earlier this week, and said he’s given the legal maximum donation to the candidate.
Other big-name Democrats are coming in to help as well. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a decades-old friendship with Jones, is headed to Alabama next Tuesday for a fundraiser and rally.
The Congressional Black Caucus is also stepping up to help an ally. The group recently hosted Jones at its annual CBC foundation luncheon, and many members are agitating the national party to step up its efforts.
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights legend who grew up in Alabama, endorsed Jones early on as well and plans to head back to the state to help him out between now and the December runoff.
“The party should go all-out in supporting him. He’s a good man, he’s a great candidate. I grew up in Alabama and I’ve been knowing him for a long time, since he was U.S. attorney, and all that he did to try to make things better and seek justice for the people who’ve been wronged,” Lewis told TPM. “It’s worthy of spending time, effort and money.”
Five years ago, when a Republican Senate nominee said things about rape and pregnancy that were beyond the pale, party leaders from the presidential nominee on down threw him under the bus. Now they’re handing an even more marginal figure the keys.
Then-Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) Senate campaign imploded when he declared that women couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” and GOP leaders including then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and presidential nominee Mitt Romney demanded that he drop out of the race and apologize for his remarks. But former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s (R) Tuesday primary win elicited a very different result from many of the same people in spite of his long history of homophobic, Islamophobic and racially charged remarks: A full-out embrace.
“I called him this morning and told him I’m certainly supporting him and want to help him,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters Wednesday, the latest member of GOP leadership to fall in line and welcome Moore into the fold.
When asked by TPM how this was different than Akin’s campaign five years ago, Cornyn conceded Moore’s win was “similar in many ways.”
But Cornyn’s reaction hasn’t been the same — and he’s not the only one. The Texan chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee when Akin made his comments, and responded by demanding the Missouri Republican drop out and pulling $5 million in funds that had been earmarked for his race (though the NRSC ended up spending a bit in the race’s closing days to help him out).
It’s not like Cornyn — or any of the rest of the GOP establishment — are fans of Moore. But things have changed dramatically in how scandal politics play, and how much GOP leaders have become willing to stomach candidates who would have been spit up in earlier years.
Moore is best known for twice being forced from the Alabama Supreme Court because he defied the rule of law with his religious conservative stances. The first time, he was kicked off for rejecting a higher court’s order to remove a Ten Commandments statue he’d erected in front of his courthouse. More recently, he’d ordered state officials to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage.
Cornyn warned reporters just days ago that Moore was too fringe — “Getting thrown off the Supreme Court of your state twice I don’t think is a credential that commends you for membership in the United States Senate,” he’d said.
But now that Moore is the nominee, Cornyn and others are pulling a swift about-face.
McConnell moved quickly to bury the hatchet after his allies spent close to $10 million to boost appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who Moore crushed on Tuesday.
“I would like to congratulate Roy Moore on his victory in Alabama tonight,” McConnell said in a Tuesday statement. “He ran a spirited campaign centered around a dissatisfaction with the progress made in Washington. I share that frustration and believe that enacting the agenda the American people voted for last November requires us all to work together.”
President Trump, no stranger himself to controversial remarks, tweeted out a strong endorsement and proceeded to delete earlier tweets backing Strange.
Those bearhugs come in spite of Moore’s decades-long bigotry and radicalism.
He has suggested the 9/11 attacks happened because America turned its back on God, called Islam a “false religion,” claimed parts of the Midwest were already living under Islamic Sharia law, warned that “immorality, abortion, sodomy, sexual perversion sweep our land,” and continued to claim that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. — and that’s just in the course of this current campaign.
Just years ago, that would have been more than enough for the party to abandon him. But Trump’s election proved things have changed, Moore’s primary win cements that reality, and Republicans are reluctantly changing with them.
Brian Walsh was a top NRSC staffer when the group cut Akin loose, and said Trump’s victory had torched the old rulebook.
“The world changed a bit, for better or worse, when Trump won the White House despite what he’s said in the past. … When you consider what the person in the White House said on Access Hollywood, where else do you go from there?” he said. “If Republicans decided to say they wouldn’t support the candidate voters chose in Alabama, the grassroots backlash would be swift and severe.”
Walsh pointed to how quickly the scandal over now-Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) body-slamming reporter Ben Jacobs blew over, citing it as evidence that scandals that would have rocked the political world are barely a blip in the Trump era.
On the other hand, some religious conservatives say the GOP treated Akin unfairly after he apologized for his remarks — and should embrace the man Alabama Republicans picked as their nominee, especially since they’re likely going to have to work with him in a few months’ time. Moore begins the race as the heavy favorite in the deep red state, though Democrats hope they can use his controversies against him.
Ed Martin, a top social conservative who heads the Eagle Forum and backed Moore in the primary, was the GOP nominee for Missouri’s attorney general in 2012. He said the party turning its back on Akin ended up costing him and other Republicans in the state.
“He’s likely the next senator, so it’s partly a desire to work with the guy who’s going to be in politics,” he said of Moore. “When Akin made his mistake, and it was a terrible mistake, the party bailed on him in a way that wasn’t wise. Maybe they’ve learned.”
Tim Miller was at the Republican National Committee when then-Chairman Reince Priebus (who later became Trump’s chief of staff) decided to cut Akin loose. He said there never was any internal discussion of whether to stand by the Missourian, just how far to go in rejecting him, and that it was obviously the right thing to do, both politically and morally. Now, Republicans are too terrified of crossing their base.
“Obviously there was extreme concern about Akin both on the merits of what he said and the impact to the party, and those concerns were right, they bore out in the election,” he said, blaming Akin for hurting Romney and other Republicans. “The drastic difference between that and the response to Roy Moore is really telling. There hasn’t been anyone I’ve heard even suggest that Roy Moore wouldn’t be worthy of the support of the party, and there’s an element of this that’s due to PTSD from Trump. … It’s unfortunate because the reality is Moore is far more extreme than Akin.”
Controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has crushed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) and the entire Republican establishment, a victory that could have major reverberations in Washington and in the 2018 midterms.
The Associated Press has called the primary runoff for Moore, an iconoclastic social conservative, who led Strange by 57 percent to 43 percent with 45 percent of precincts counted.
His victory is a blow to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose allies spent close to $10 million trying to boost Strange and stop Moore, and shows the limitations of an endorsement from President Trump, who agreed to back Strange and stumped for him in the race’s closing days.
Moore is a hardline religious conservative who was twice kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to obey the rule of law and disregarding higher court rulings, first for erecting then refusing to remove a monument of the ten commandments a decade ago then for rejecting the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage.
He’s said “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” suggested the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks happened because America has turned away from God, and claimed that parts of the American Midwest were living under Muslim Sharia law.
But in spite of those controversial views (and with many base voters, because of them) Moore cruised to first place in the first round of voting and easily bested Strange in the runoff.
That was as much due to Strange’s own problems as Moore’s strengths. McConnell’s support is a two-edged sword given his unpopularity with large segments of the Republican base. A bigger problem was Strange’s appointment by then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who was forced to resign under cloud of a sex scandal. Strange, as attorney general, had been in charge of investigating him, and many voters saw the appointment as fishy.
Even Trump couldn’t save him from those issues, showing the limits of his pull with GOP base voters, especially when he gets crossways with them.
Moore’s primary win pours gasoline on the anti-establishment fire burning through the GOP base. Conservative voters are irate that Republicans haven’t been able to get more done in Washington. Serious Trump-fueled primary challengers are already threatening Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dean Heller (R-NV) from the right, Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) Tuesday decision to retire opens the door for a potentially bloody open-seat primary, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) may get a primary challenge as well.
“We’re already witnessing some of that every day,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) warned reporters Tuesday afternoon about the base fervor against McConnell and the status quo.
Top establishment Republicans were looking to spin a possible Strange loss away even before polls had closed, blaming circumstances unique to the state.
“Races, particularly special elections are hard to read into,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) told TPM Tuesday afternoon, even as he insisted that Strange would win. “This is particularly unique due to the governor of Alabama’s activities.”
Strange made a point to thank Trump, who had to be convinced to come in to back him at the last minute, but not McConnell, whose allies spent huge to help him, in his statement admitting defeat.
“I am especially grateful for the support of President Trump and Vice President Pence, as well as the strong example set by my friends Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. I congratulate Roy Moore on the result this evening,” he said in a statement.
While Trump eventually came in to back Strange, many of his allies threw their support to Moore, a rabble-rousing outsider who has a lot more in common temperamentally with the president than his endorsed candidate. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon used his website Breitbart to rally hard for Moore, and Trump backers from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to Fox News host Sean Hannity supported him as well.
Trump congratulated Moore on the results — though he initially got the timing of the general election wrong before sending a corrected tweet saying it was in December, not November.
Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Dec!
The Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-affiliated group that spent close to $10 million on the race, put out a statement conceding defeat even before the AP called the race.
“We are proud to have fought alongside President Trump and the NRA in support of a dedicated conservative who has loyally supported this President and his agenda,” SLF President Steven Law said in a statement sent shortly after 9 p.m. EST. “While we were honored to have fought hard for Big Luther, Judge Roy Moore won this nomination fair and square and he has our support, as it is vital that we keep this seat in Republican hands.”
That’s a strong likelihood — but no guarantee. Democrats are excited about their nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, and believe that Moore’s divisive views have a small chance of giving them a shot in the race.
“Voters can’t look past Roy Moore’s fringe beliefs, habit of putting himself first and his dishonesty. Even Republicans have said Moore is unfit to serve and spent millions to keep him out of office. Doug Jones is a man of character and integrity, who is unafraid to stand up for what’s right and has a proven record of independence that will serve Alabama families in the U.S. Senate,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said in a statement.
Trump carried the state by a lopsided 62 percent to 34 percent, however, and while Republicans quietly grumble they may have to spend some money for Moore they’re not yet that worried that he could blow the race.
And if Moore does make it to Washington, he’s guaranteed to be a thorn in the side of McConnell and GOP leadership — as he made clear in a primary victory speech that sounded much more like a sermon than a stump speech.
“We have to return the knowledge of God and the Constitution of the United States to Congress,” he declared.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) won’t run for another term in office, he announced Tuesday, creating a vacuum at the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vacancy for the Senate that’s likely to be hard-fought in the primary and potentially the general election.
“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” Corker said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
The decision means one of the Senate’s most interesting members won’t be around Washington much longer. Corker, a two-term senator, has had President Trump’s ear at times (he’d been on Trump’s short list for Secretary of State) and had shown a willingness to harshly criticize the president when he disagreed with him.
Corker led the charge in pushing through new sanctions against Russia this past summer, which Trump had reluctantly signed after huge bipartisan support in Congress.
And he was particularly critical after Trump’s post-Charlottesville comments blaming “both sides.”
“The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker declared at the time.
Trump fired back with a tweet saying Corker had repeatedly asked him whether or not to run again — and insinuating he might face a primary fight.
Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy!
Corker drew bipartisan praise upon his announcement.
“Even when he’s been investigating smugglers’ tunnels near the Gaza strip, talking to foreign leaders, or giving advice to President Trump, Bob has never let his feet leave the ground in Tennessee. He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans, and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues involving the federal debt and national security,”Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in a statement. “His absence will leave a big hole in the United States Senate, but I know he’s carefully weighed his decision, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he tackles next.”
His Senate Democratic colleagues were just as kind.
“No matter the challenge, you can always count on Senator Corker to bring a reasoned, thoughtful approach, and to make decisions based not on partisanship but on what he believes is in the best interests of the American people. I am sorry to hear of his decision not to run for another term in the Senate,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a statement. “I also hope this is a wake-up call to all of us in the Senate that we need to recommit ourselves to creating an environment where reasonable, thoughtful people of both parties can come together to solve problems.”
Corker’s retirement is likely to trigger a knock-down, drag-out GOP primary to replace him — and potentially an opening for Democrats in the heavily Republican state if the wrong candidate emerges for the GOP.
Corker was already facing a potential challenge from the populist right from former State Rep. Joe Carr (R), an anti-immigration hardliner who lost a 2014 primary challenge to Alexander.
Other potential candidates include Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), a Trump ally who has $3 million in the bank, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), and Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green (R), who Trump had nominated for Army secretary but was forced to withdraw due to controversial remarks he’d made about LGBT people and Muslims.
One intriguing possibility: Former University of Tennessee (and Indianapolis Colts) football star Peyton Manning, who is rumored to be interested in the race. Manning, a Republican, played golf with Trump earlier this year.
The seat is highly likely to remain in GOP hands, barring disaster — Corker narrowly won his seat in a terrible year for the GOP, 2006, and the state has moved hard right in recent years. Trump carried it by 61 percent to 35 percent last fall. But many of the state’s Republicans have a moderate streak, and the wrong GOP nominee could make things interesting and give Democrats hope that Tennessee could be the third seat they need in their pipe-dreams of winning back Senate control, though that would mean holding all 10 Democratic seats in states Trump won last year and winning both Arizona and Nevada.
Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler (D) was already in the race against Corker, and Democratic strategists think he’s a solid potential nominee. Moderate Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is another name who could be an intriguing statewide candidate, as is former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).
Democrats were happy to highlight Corker’s retirement — though they stopped short of promising to fight for the race.
“Senator Corker’s decision is the latest example of a key theme driving GOP Senate primaries across the country: divided and leaderless, Republican Senate campaigns have nothing to run on but a string of broken promises, and this dynamic will continue to define Republican Senate primaries across the map,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement.