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What The RNC's Support For Roy Moore Means For 2018

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Republican Party probably had no idea the Senate race in Alabama would become such a headache. This is a special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' seat - deep-red state, safe Republican seat. Right? Or is it now?

After allegations surfaced that the Republican candidate Roy Moore had pursued sexual contact with teenage girls, many Republicans condemned him, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The RNC pulled support. But then, this week, President Trump explicitly endorsed Roy Moore, and then the RNC got back behind him as well.

I want to talk all this through with Scott Jennings. He's a Republican political strategist based in Kentucky, and he served as special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: This was supposed to be an easy one for the GOP, wasn't it?

JENNINGS: It is the reddest state in America. This ought to be a 20- to 25-point win for the Republican Party, but here we sit in what is essentially a dead-heat race with a week to go.

GREENE: Well, I mean, it's just some crazy stuff. Yesterday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake made a show on Twitter by sending a donation check to the Democratic opponent here, Doug Jones. And then fellow Republican Senator Ben Sasse responds, essentially, what are you doing? You don't have to support either candidate, but certainly, don't support the Democrat. I mean, how much of a mess is this?

JENNINGS: It's a huge mess. Look, this ought not be on anyone's radar. The Republicans should have won this with scant news coverage. The Democrats should not be competitive. I've argued, really, that the outcome here is - there's no good outcome for the Republicans, that either a Democrat is going to go to the U.S. Senate from the reddest state in America or Roy Moore's going to win, and he is going to be a brand anvil on the Republican Party. And so I think, in some ways, the Republican Party's already lost the race.

GREENE: An anvil on the Republican Party - and I want to ask you about that because Moore was speaking last night at a rally in a barn in south Alabama, essentially presenting himself as part of the Trump movement. You don't sound convinced by that.

JENNINGS: No. In fact, there's no empirical evidence that Roy Moore would support the Trump agenda. I mean, look at what he's done so far in this campaign. No. 1, he opposed the Obamacare repeal legislation that was preferred by President Trump. No. 2, everybody in Alabama knows Moore, in some ways, is a creation of the liberal trial bar. He's sort of bought and paid for by these guys in this and other campaigns.

And so I don't really think we have any evidence that Moore supports Trump. I think he's doing it out of political expediency. And whereas Alabama has had two senators that have been very supportive of the Trump agenda, I think they're now going to have a wild card who really is a party of one. He's for Roy Moore. And if that intersects with Trump sometimes, fine. But I'll guarantee you, he is going to pop up and cause a problem for the Trump agenda if he makes it to Washington.

GREENE: I got to ask you about these liberal connections you're suggesting with Roy Moore. What are you talking about? I'm confused here.

JENNINGS: Well, back during the Graham-Cassidy debate over the summer, he came out and vocally opposed that. And of course, as you know, Donald Trump - this was his preferred method at one time for repealing and replacing Obamacare. And Roy Moore takes thousands of dollars from the liberal trial lawyers in Alabama and has for a very long time.

So his connections to, I think, the liberal Democrats in Alabama plus his skepticism of Donald Trump's agenda make me very worried that Donald Trump here is going to regret getting involved in this race. I support the president and want his agenda to succeed. I just don't think Roy Moore's going to help with it.

GREENE: I should tell our listeners that this - these liberal connections and that those - that kind of money - it's not something I can confirm on live radio, what you're saying. But that's certainly interesting and not something I've heard before. So what - if you're faced with a binary choice between Roy Moore and a Democrat, are you suggesting that Alabama Republican voters should support the Democrat here?

JENNINGS: No, it's not a binary choice. There is a write-in candidate who is a Republican who appears to be a mainstream conservative Republican. So look...

GREENE: This is Lee Busby. The is the...

JENNINGS: Yeah, that's right. And in fact, the other senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, wrote someone in. He didn't say who he wrote in, but he did a write-in vote. So look, if you don't want to vote Democrat - and I never vote Democrat - you don't have to. There's a third option in this race.

GREENE: So you are predicting that if Roy Moore gets into the Senate, there is no way that he could just be brought in line by fellow Republican senators to support the Trump agenda.

JENNINGS: No. I - look, I think Roy Moore is a party of one. He's going to do what's best for Roy Moore. He's going to try to make waves and make news on a weekly or even daily basis. And so look, again, he's going to be in the Republican conference ostensibly. So most of the time, some of the time, half the time, maybe, he'll be with the president and the Republican agenda. But my prediction is, he's going to find some ways to set himself apart for no other reason than to get attention.

GREENE: Well, if you are so pessimistic, why are people like Mitch McConnell getting back behind the idea of having to deal with Roy Moore and seat him? Why is Republican Senator Orrin Hatch saying that there was no other choice for Donald Trump but to support him because, as Hatch put it, that's the only Republican we can get down there?

JENNINGS: Well, I can speak to Mitch McConnell's words yesterday. I think what he said is being taken out of context. I mean, the reality is, McConnell and a whole lot of Republicans tried and tried and tried to get the governor of Alabama to intervene in this race, to move the election or to disown Roy Moore as a Republican candidate. She wouldn't do it. The party there wouldn't do it.

And so McConnell says there's going to be an election. Well, there is because all roads to change the election date or the candidate have died at the hands of the Alabama governor. But once Moore gets to Washington - if he wins - and that's an outcome that's still, in my opinion, very much in question - McConnell was clear. He is going to have a problem with the ethics committee.

GREENE: And so that might be even more of a mess for the Republican Party - to have the ethics committee make a lot of news investigating Roy Moore once he's seated.

JENNINGS: Yeah, that's right. They would give a chance for all the women who've accused Roy Moore to have their stories told under oath. I don't think they're ever going to get due process in Alabama on some of these things because they're several years old, but the ethics committee might give them a chance.

GREENE: All right, Scott Jennings is a Republican political consultant based in Kentucky, talking to us about that Alabama Senate race.

Scott, appreciate it. Thanks.

JENNINGS: Hey, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.