Roy Moore Is Running for the Senate Again, and Alabama Republicans Are Not Happy
Alabama’s Republican Party has a ticker on its home page announcing the number of “Days until Doug Jones”—the state’s Democratic junior senator, who defeated the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, in 2017—“is unseated by Alabama voters.” On Thursday, the ticker read “502.” Still to be decided is who will get the chance to unseat the narrowly elected Democrat in one of the country’s most conservative states. On Thursday afternoon, Moore announced his intention to run again, saying, during a press conference in Montgomery, with a yellow notepad in hand, “I fought for our country in Vietnam. I fought for our country and its laws as Chief Justice. I fought for morality, to serve our moral institutions. And I’m ready to do it again. Yes, I will run for the United States Senate in 2020.” He added, “Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I—they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition to me.” Moore also referred to the “false tactics” used by “Democratic operatives” to disrupt his last campaign. He was alluding to a report, published by the Times last December, that “a group of Democratic tech experts” had carried out an experimental cyber misinformation effort. The Times concluded that the project was unlikely to have affected the election’s outcome. In his announcement, Moore called the 2017 Alabama Senate election “fraudulent,” and predicted that Senate Republicans would run “a smear campaign” against him.
Michael Bullington recently became chair of the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans. The group vocally opposed Moore’s previous candidacy for the Senate seat, which became available, last time around, when Jeff Sessions was appointed to be U.S. Attorney General. Like many other Republicans unsettled by allegations against Moore of sexual misconduct, Bullington wrote in the name of another candidate—though Bullington told me, on Thursday, that he couldn’t quite remember which one he’d settled on. “Probably Del Marsh,” he said, referring to the Republican president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate. “I honestly didn’t expect to be reliving this drama eighteen months later,” Bullington added, noting that he would have kept tabs on Moore’s potential candidacy via Moore’s Twitter page, but Moore blocked Bullington during the last campaign.
Bullington said that he’d be happy to vote for any of the other notable Republicans who have entered the race so far, or are expected to do so—including Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn University football coach; the congressman Bradley Byrne, the state representative Arnold Mooney; and the Alabama secretary of state, John Merrill. He would also vote for Sessions, were he to run for his old seat—not Moore, though, even against a Democrat. “He was credibly accused of sexual assault by several women,” Bullington said. “He’s currently engaged in multiple lawsuits and seems to be losing. His name identification has largely a negative connotation. He has trouble fixing his taxes right,” Bullington added, referring to the reported failure of Moore’s former charity, the Foundation for Moral Law, to disclose half a million dollars of compensation to him. “His lawyer was arrested on drug charges,” Bullington went on. (The lawyer in question, Trenton Garmon, has denied any wrongdoing.) “He has lost three statewide campaigns. And he was removed from the bench multiple times.”
A Republican pollster told the Washington Post this week that, despite all of this, Moore could win twenty per cent or more of the vote in a Republican primary, positioning him to earn the Party’s nomination for the Senate a second time. “If the Alabama G.O.P. puts him on the ballot,” Bullington said, “then we deserve to lose.”
Cam Ward, a member of the Alabama State Senate, was more forgiving. “He marches to the beat of his own drummer,” Ward said of Moore on Thursday morning. “He has a sizeable base that will support him regardless of the election. Now, the circumstances of this election, as opposed to the one two years ago, have changed dramatically,” Ward continued. “Luther Strange”—the Trump-backed incumbent whom Moore beat in the 2017 primary—“was viewed as the country-club establishment at that time. This time, the field is full of non-incumbents, outsiders,” like Moore. “I don’t think this new dynamic will favor him. It’s harder for him to draw a contrast with this broader, robust, more outsider-filled field.”
“I want to beat Doug Jones,” Ward went on. “I don’t want a rematch of two years ago. Any Republican nominee is always gonna have a chance in Alabama, but I agree with President Trump on this one. I don’t think Judge Moore is in the best position to win.”
Trump weighed in on the race well before Moore’s announcement: in late May, he preëmptively opposed Moore’s potential candidacy—after strongly supporting Moore in the 2017 race. “Republicans cannot allow themselves to again lose the Senate seat in the Great State of Alabama,” Trump tweeted late last month. “This time it will be for Six Years, not just Two. I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win. But he didn’t, and probably won’t.”
Elizabeth BeShears, a political-communications consultant and Republican based in Birmingham, said, before Moore’s announcement, “Roy Moore’s ego knows no bounds.” His nomination, in 2017, was a “perfect storm,” she said, which she didn’t expect to see repeated. After Moore entered the race on Thursday, BeShears added, “Even if he’s completely innocent of the accusations that came to light in 2017, this move is indicative of a person whose judgment Alabamians should never trust, who is willing to turn yet another election cycle into a self-centered circus.” Though she has not yet made a decision, BeShears likes a handful of the Republicans who’ve already entered the race and is inclined to support most of them in a general election. “I hope Moore is relegated to the sidelines,” she added.
Many people expect the secretary of state, Merrill, to announce his own candidacy soon, and he is believed to be a strong contender for the nomination. Merrill told me, “Obviously, if Judge Moore wants to pursue another campaign, he’s qualified to do so: he meets the standard for age and citizenship. But,” Merrill went on, “there are a number of people who have already made up their minds about his candidacy, because of what we went through in 2017. He’d have a difficult time overcoming some of those things that were presented and would be raised again.” Merrill added, “The people of Alabama decided they’d rather have Senator Jones than Judge Moore, and it’s very important that we elect a proven, conservative reformer who is recognized as a winner.”