Roy Moore has now got President Trump’s endorsement, support from the Republican National Committee and a reasonably strong chance of winning — all proving that the many GOP leaders who tried to stop him have little control over their party. Whatever control GOP leaders retained after the tea party movement, in fact, has been severely undermined by Trump. And Moore, who stands accused of sexual misconduct with multiple minors, is easily the best indicator of that to date.
But the reason something like Moore could happen is more complicated than just Trump. And Republicans can blame one thing that Trump stoked, with plenty of help: The party’s increasing persecution complex.
After decades of being told that the media is out to get them, the tea party took that a step further and told Republicans that the GOP establishment was also out to get them. Now Trump, with some prodding from Stephen K. Bannon, has told GOP voters that the entire political establishment and even many American institutions (law enforcement, the judiciary, the intelligence community, etc.) are out to get them. The combined effect of all of this is that Republican voters almost reflexively recoil at the perception of being told what to do, whether by The Washington Post and the New York Times, by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, or by anyone else not named Trump. Trump’s brand of populism has turned the enemy of their enemies into the friends of all Republicans.
And nobody was primed to exploit that sense of persecution like Moore.
Much like Trump, Moore isn’t someone who Republican voters necessarily love, so much as someone that supposedly evil political forces have tried to undermine. Moore finished fourth in the 2010 Alabama governor’s race and barely won his state Supreme Court seat back in 2012. Yet just as with Trump, who started the 2016 GOP primary deeply unpopular with Republicans, here we are.
And this actually began long before the current allegations. During this year’s Senate primary, Moore seized upon his alleged persecution, arguing relentlessly and in hyperbolic terms about how Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) was out to get him. McConnell, of course, had become toxic in Republican primaries thanks in large part to Trump. So even as Trump nominally backed Moore’s primary runoff opponent, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), voters picked Moore in the primary and then in the two-man primary runoff.
That sense of persecution only increased, of course, once a number of women came forward in The Post to say Moore had pursued them when they were teenagers — including one who accused him of unwanted sexual touching when she was 14. Since then, other accusers have come forward, most notably a woman who accused him of sexual assault when she was 16.
The more than three-decade-old allegations lend themselves to Moore’s assertions of persecution. That’s in large part because, like many accusations of years-old sexual misconduct, there is unlikely to ever be bona fide proof of them. Even as The Post and others have substantiated the women’s claims to the extent that’s possible, there is still faith and trust involved. Republicans in Alabama, it turns out, have faith in Moore and little trust in the national media — despite the severity of the accusations.
Another reason Moore has been uniquely able to hold the GOP base is his political career, which has been built upon fashioning himself as a martyr. He has effectively been kicked off the state Supreme Court twice for choosing his religious convictions over the law. Moore was almost perfectly positioned to claim persecution in this case, because he’s been claiming it for the better part of 20 years.
None of this is to suggest the GOP has a monopoly on claiming political persecution. Politics is a game that rewards finding a convincing bogeyman, and populist candidates like Trump tend to find a large supply of bogeymen and rigged systems on the path to political office. But today’s Republicans are uniquely skeptical of the things they hear from the national media, the intelligence community and even their party leaders — all of which Trump has argued don’t have their interests at heart.
It’s almost a perfect storm, and combined with the uniqueness we find in Alabama, it might soon give us Sen. Roy Moore (R-Ala.), despite GOP leaders’ best efforts.