While President Donald Trump has kept the controversy at arm's length during his overseas trip by sticking to the “if true” loophole, Republicans at home have been dividing into distinct camps that have little room for common ground.
While Moore (kind of) maintains his innocence and blames the media, a particularly attractive tactic for Trump supporters, some Republicans and conservatives have weirdly defended the practice of “dating” underage girls, and others have flat-out called on Moore to step down.
Fox News host and Trump fanboi extraordinaire Sean Hannity, meanwhile, has become yet another cultural litmus test for Trump fans by virtue of the advertiser exodus over his defense of Moore.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has just upped the ante in this bizarre new culture war by explicitly siding with Moore's accusers, demanding that he step down and telling reporters that he is open to a write-in campaign for the seat that was vacated by Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
REPORTER: Senator, before you go, Roy Moore, what's the latest there? Are you calling for him to step down from that Senate race?
MCCONNELL: I did, I think he should step aside.
REPORTER: Are you encouraging write-in campaign — [for current Alabama] Sen. [Luther] Strange?
MCCONNELL: Yeah, that's an option that we're looking at, whether or not there is someone who could mount a write-in campaign successfully.
REPORTER: Would it be Sen. Strange?
MCCONNELL: We'll see.
REPORTER: Is the burden on Moore to prove these false versus someone proving that these are true in this situation? Or do you believe these allegations to be true?
MCCONNELL: I believe the women, yes.
Aside from the dicey territory that this puts McConnell in regarding the 16 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct and apparently not been believed by him, McConnell's declaration puts Trump in the position of having to choose sides between those of his supporters who are circling the wagons around Moore and a write-in candidate who could very well be the loser he supported against Moore.
Also, it presents a significant moral quandary. Just kidding.
Strategically, McConnell's remarks present a huge opportunity for Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, who would benefit greatly from a write-in campaign that would split Republican votes between Moore, Strange, and that guy who sang bass on “Elvira,” probably. However, such a move probably stands to benefits Republicans much more in the not-so-long term.
Jones has already taken a polling lead over Moore since the scandal broke, and since it's already too late to get Moore's name off the ballot, the prospect of a big loss was already very real. There were likely to be strong write-in protest votes anyway. But with a 2018 U.S. Senate map that's very favorable to Republicans, McConnell's stand here could only help to mitigate the far worse damage that could be done by hanging Moore around the necks of Republicans in the midterms.
Listen to Roy Moore “generally” deny dating underage girls on Sean Hannity's radio show below.