Zaleski: It is risky to sell your soul to the devil
Republicans who believe they have souls need to do some serious soul-searching after the political earthquake that jolted ruby-red Alabama last Tuesday. For the first time in 25 years, a Democrat, Doug Jones, won a U.S. Senate seat over a Republican candidate, disgraced judge and accused pedophile, Roy Moore. The repercussions for the Republican Party and the party's leader, Donald Trump, cannot be minimized. It was a slap in the chops heard across the nation. Jones is not just any southern Democrat. He's pro-choice in a pro-life Republican state. He's a champion of civil rights—having successfully prosecuted the men who bombed the Birmingham church in which three young black girls died—in a place where "states rights" are code words for racism. He won a significant number of Republican votes when Alabama's senior Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said just hours before election day he would not vote for Moore.
Ironically, the newly elected Democrat has rescued Republican senators from having to serve with the the likes of Roy Moore—all the more important after Senate Democrats took the high road regarding sexual misconduct by forcing Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota to resign. Had Moore won and been seated, the contrast between Republicans' alleged conservative values and the substantive action taken by Democrats to purge their ranks would have been stark—the stuff of in-your-face campaign ads that would make Republicans squirm.
But even having been saved by Jones's win, Republicans—specifically the Republican National Committee and the occasional occupant of the Oval Office—cannot scrape away the stain of their support for Moore, a once-sexual predator and current liar about his history. The RNC first backed from Moore, then did a hypocritical flip-flop when Trump threw his support to Moore.
When the votes were counted, the RNC had lost once and Trump had lost twice: He did not endorse Moore in the primary and Moore won; he endorsed Moore against Jones, and Moore lost. Some analysts said Trump lost thrice in Alabama because his tapping of Sen. Jeff Sessions for U.S. attorney general sparked a political conflagration that probably makes The Donald wish he'd never heard of the state.
And there's this: Are Trump and Moore soulmates, given their histories of misconduct, sexism and nativism? Maybe the New York rich guy felt a kind of kinship with the Alabama good ol' boy. Maybe Trump, himself a denier and liar about the facts of his behavior, identified with Moore's pathetic combativeness. Or maybe it was a simple, if corrosive, political calculation: Trump wanted that Republican vote in the Senate.
Republicans are at a come-to-Jesus moment. They can—and many have—sacrifice their values and decency for political gain. They can—and many have—grant a vulgar, mercurial, self-centered and incompetent president a pass, and put at risk the once-honorable Republican brand. They can—and many have—embrace a Faustian bargain that ultimately will put their souls—if they still believe they have souls—in peril.
Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-241-5521.