The sixties ended. College ended. The Beatles disbanded. Nixon was president. Perhaps there had been a “cultural revolution” but the counterculture hadn’t won – they’d only planted seeds. They’d win later. Perhaps they finally won this week – but back then, the new decade was a return to the past. It was time to move on, but Graduate school in the South was confusing. Maybe that was because they called Duke the Harvard of the South. The campus was exceedingly ivy-covered gothic and looked very British, except for the magnolia trees and all the sunshine, and the oppressive steamy heat – but this wasn’t Cambridge, or the other Cambridge on the north edge of Boston. This was the third version, built during the Great Depression, when the butt-end of a cigarette you found in the street might be the only thing that kept you going, and Duke was built with the enormous profits from the tobacco industry. The nearby city, Durham, was gritty and poor and filled with supermarkets called Piggly-Wiggly. The locals didn’t much care for book-learning, and the highway that led south through the miles and miles of dark loblolly pine forests was part of that Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway thought up in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy – because that war way back when had been noble and good, and the darkies had actually been happy, and the South really didn’t lose, not really. Now that stretch of road leads to Research Triangle Park, the Silicon Valley of the South, more or less. That’s the New South – the ambiguous old mixed with the unsettling new, with everything a version of what it isn’t. There was always tension in the air.
Charlotte was further west, now one of the major cities of the New South, with its giant glass skyscrapers. It’s the banking center of America, or close enough, with Bank of America and so many others headquartered there. It sticks out from the tobacco fields like a sore thumb, not far from Charlotte Motor Speedway with its iconic NASCAR races. Charlotte too cannot decide what it wants to be. It’s now another place filled with bankers and good ol’ boys, pretending not to see each other, kind of like the Republican Party these days.
That’s an odd mix – the Republicans are still trying to work that out – but North Carolina isn’t really the South. Alabama is the South, the South that Neil Young, when he was living out here up the hill in Laurel Canyon in 1970, sang about in Southern Man – “I saw cotton and I saw black, tall white mansions and little shacks. Southern Man, when will you pay them back?”
The song also mentions cross burning, and two years later there was a song called “Alabama” on Young’s Harvest album. The Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd had had just about enough of that and in 1974 they answered with Sweet Home Alabama – “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her. Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down. Well, I hope Neil Young will remember. A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”
The grammar was intentionally and defiantly bad – a Southern thing – and by the way, in Birmingham they love the governor – “Now Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth. Sweet home Alabama…” And so on and so forth. Watch this live performance with the big Confederate Flag in the background. It’s very Southern. They really don’t give a damn about what any West Coast liberal snowflake thinks of them. It’s also very Republican, in a Donald Trump kind of way, or maybe in a Steve Bannon kind of way. There’s a reason the Republican Party is often called the Party of the South.
Donald Trump did name Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as his attorney general – that senator from Alabama with a bit of a racist past – and that name. That left an open Senate seat. Alabama Governor Bentley appointed the very strange Luther Strange – an establishment Republican who could work well with Mitch McConnell up in Washington – to fill that seat until the next election. Then the next election came – the Republican primary that would decide who would run against any hopeless jerk the Democrats would come up with, who would surely lose. McConnell wanted Strange to win that primary. Donald Trump agreed.
The voters disagreed. Steve Bannon, who at that point had been tossed out of the White House by John Kelly, disagreed. The voters wanted Roy Moore – the former Alabama state judge twice elected to and twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, over that statue of the Ten Commandments and then for refusing to recognize the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, the founder and president of the Foundation for Moral Law, who says this is a Christian and Christians-only nation, who wants to make homosexual acts of any kind a felony and rid the nation of immigrants, or at least non-white immigrants, and who likes to wave his little pistol around when he speaks – no one will ever take HIS gun away. Moore doesn’t give a damn what any liberal snowflake thinks of him.
Alabama voters loved it. Steve Bannon loved it – this guy was the future of the Republican Party, a defiant antiestablishment man-of-the-people cultural nationalist who doesn’t give a damn what any liberal snowflake thinks about anything at all. Roy Moore was more Donald Trump than even Donald Trump. Roy Moore won easily.
Donald Trump changed his tune. Roy Moore was just fine. Mitch McConnell and all the Washington Republicans changed their tune. They all endorsed Roy Moore in the upcoming general election. Steve Bannon was grinning. The Republican Party was his now. The conflict between the bankers and good ol’ boys had been resolved. The good ol’ boys won. It was their party now. Everyone was singing Sweet Home Alabama.
That didn’t last long, as Jonathan Martin as his team at the New York Times reports here:
Republicans in Washington seemed near panic Thursday in the light of a news report in which four women said Roy S. Moore, the Republican nominee for a United States Senate seat in Alabama and an evangelical Christian, had made sexual or romantic overtures to them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, said Mr. Moore should step aside ahead of the Dec. 12 special election if the allegations were true.
But in Alabama, the fallout was uncertain for a candidate who is considered a hero in some circles for his conservative cultural stances.
The conflict between the bankers and good ol’ boys has not been resolved:
On Thursday, Moore strenuously denied the allegations the women made about him in on-the-record interviews included in the report, published by The Washington Post.
And it was clear that many in his conservative base were in no mood to desert him in a race for a Senate seat Republicans consider crucial to maintaining their majority in the upper chamber.
John Skipper, 66, a former chair of the Mobile County Republican Party, declared the allegations “total contrived media garbage.” Mr. Skipper said that he would still support the candidate and that he figured most of the Alabama Republicans he knew would probably do the same.
“Most of them will not be shocked,” he said, “and will rather be expecting these shenanigans being pulled by the Democrats as standard operating procedure.”
That was one line of defense:
The women cited in The Washington Post article said that Mr. Moore had pursued them in the 1970s and 1980s when he was a lawyer in his early 30s. Mr. Moore was defiant, denying the charges and attacking the news media.
“These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and The Washington Post on this campaign,” he said in a statement. He later attributed the news to “The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lap dogs.”
And there was this:
Others in Alabama shrugged at the allegations. “There’s nothing to see here,” said Jim Zeigler, the state auditor and a longtime supporter of Mr. Moore. “Single man, early 30s, never been married, dating teenage girls. Never been married and he liked younger girls. According to The Washington Post account he never had sexual intercourse with any of them.”
Others didn’t share that view:
Senate Republicans moved en masse to distance themselves from their nominee almost as soon as the news article was posted.
A statement from Vice President Mike Pence said: “The Vice President found the allegations in the story disturbing and believes, if true, this would disqualify anyone from serving in office.”
That statement was repeated by numerous Republican senators.
“If these allegations are true, his candidacy is not sustainable,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican. Mr. Cornyn said he wanted to know more before withdrawing his endorsement of Mr. Moore.
Mr. Moore’s candidacy had already worried party leaders who had embraced Mr. Moore despite his long record of incendiary comments about gays, Muslims and African-Americans.
Now they’re rethinking that, and none of this is simple:
Alabama election law indicates, with little ambiguity, that the deadline has passed for candidates to be replaced on the ballot. The state election code says a candidate who wishes to withdraw from a race must do so 76 days before Election Day. The Alabama vote is in little more than a month.
“It’s too late to substitute a candidate,” said John Merrill, the Alabama secretary of state, a Republican. “Judge Moore will be the candidate on the ballot with this election cycle remaining on the schedule it’s currently on.”
Republican lawyers and strategists in Washington were engaged in a furious search on Thursday for creative ways around that restriction, seeking a loophole that would allow the party’s leadership in the state to anoint a new candidate. The prospect of a write-in candidacy, for a third candidate, was also under consideration, according to party aides.
This is a mess, and this was creepy:
One of the women, Leigh Corfman, told The Washington Post that she was 14 when Mr. Moore, 32 at the time, drove her to his home in Gadsden, Ala. He took off her shirt and touched her bra and underwear while also guiding her hand over his pants, Ms. Corfman told The Post.
“I wanted it over with – I wanted out,” she told the newspaper.
CNN reported that it had spoken with Ms. Corfman’s stepfather, who said the family “stands by” what was reported in The Post.
That, in turn, led to this:
The charges reignited hostilities between Mr. McConnell’s political allies, who poured millions of dollars into the campaign to stop Mr. Moore, and President Trump’s former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who rallied support for the former justice.
“This is what happens when you let reckless, incompetent idiots like Steve Bannon go out and recruit candidates who have absolutely no business running for the U.S. Senate,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell aide.
That, in turn, has consequences:
Private polling by both parties has shown that while Mr. Moore retains a passionate following among conservatives, he is a deeply divisive figure among more moderate Republicans, and some party officials now worry that the charges will convince moderates to stay home or vote for the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, a former United States attorney.
The Jones campaign said in a statement that “Roy Moore needs to answer these serious charges.”
Cleveland Poole, the chairman of the Republican Party in rural Butler County, said those most likely to defect were not ardent Moore supporters but voters who already have doubts. “They are going to be put off by it and might well stay home,” he said.
On the other hand, there was this:
Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said he expected voters would mostly give Mr. Moore the benefit of the doubt.
“Until I see something different, I would support Roy Moore because of what he says he’s going to do and who he is as a person,” Mr. Brinson said.
Mr. Zeigler said the account given by Ms. Corfman was “the only part that is concerning.” As Zeigler described it, “He went a little too far and he stopped.”
Had the girl been 16 at the time and not 14, he added, “It would have been perfectly acceptable.”
And that’s not all he said:
An Alabama state official on Thursday dismissed a Washington Post report alleging that GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl decades ago, saying there was an age gap between the biblical Joseph and Mary… “Take Joseph and Mary – Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told The Washington Examiner.
Multiple evangelical leaders slammed Ziegler.
“Bringing Joseph and Mary into a modern-day molestation accusation, where a 32-year-old prosecutor is accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, is simultaneously ridiculous and blasphemous,” said Ed Stetzer, a pastor and church consultant who chairs the Billy Graham Center of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College. “Even those who followed ancient marriage customs, which we would not follow today, knew the difference between molesting and marriage.”
“Women were chattel back then, they were traded – of course they married men who were much older and had multiple wives,” said the Rev. Amy Butler, senior minister of the Riverside Church, a historical and prominent interdenominational church in New York City. “It’s completely ludicrous to equate the sex assault of a minor with an ancient culture. It’s ludicrous .It makes me want to rip the church back from these people.”
But not everyone agrees with them:
Earlier this year, Moore received high-profile endorsements from conservative leaders such as psychologist and radio host James Dobson, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown.
In an email to supporters on Thursday, Moore told his supporters: “The forces of evil are on the march in our country. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message.”
Moore may see the forces of evil are on the march, but Aaron Blake sees something else:
If Moore’s political career has shown us anything, it’s that he is more than happy to take a stand against anybody who tries to tell him what to do. This is a guy who has made not one but two principled stands that effectively forced his removal from the state Supreme Court. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him try to fight this, especially after President Trump withstood numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations on his road to the presidency. Put plainly: It’s hard to rule anything out in the Trump Era – even a Moore victory.
But if Moore doesn’t win and Democrat Doug Jones does, Republicans’ effective Senate majority will have declined from 52-48 to 51-49. That gives them almost no margin for error in passing legislation.
It would also make the GOP’s Senate majority significantly more vulnerable next year. Given that Vice President Pence breaks ties in the Senate, Democrats need to pick up three seats and hold all their seats (many of them in red states) to win back the chamber. But they only had two obvious pickup opportunities: In Arizona and in Nevada. If Democrats can win in Alabama, those two pickups might suffice. The math and their path to a majority will be significantly clearer.
It seems that Steve Bannon has ruined everything:
Saying the former head of Trump’s campaign and chief White House adviser delivered the nomination to Moore is giving him too much credit – Moore already led before Bannon came on-board and made an appearance for him – but Moore is the kind of candidate Bannon has promised to support in Republican primaries across the country. Bannon is seeking primary challengers to run against basically any Republican incumbent who doesn’t call for Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) removal as majority leader. He’s looking for anti-establishment, nationalistic, Trumpian firebrands. But those firebrands also tend to be less vetted, more extreme and prone to spectacular downfalls that cost the GOP seats.
“Steve Bannon is responsible,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff who argued that Bannon has enabled candidates like Moore who are outside the GOP mainstream.
The pitfalls of this approach are all-too-familiar to Republican leaders. The party nominated a series of extreme candidates backed by the tea party that went on to lose very winnable Senate races in 2010 and 2012. Think: Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, Ken Buck and Christine O’Donnell. Republicans’ ability to win the Senate majority was arguably delayed for years by these candidates’ upset wins in GOP primaries.
Bannon is threatening to usher in a replay of the GOP’s tea party primary pains. It may have just started earlier than we expected.
That’s the cold political calculation, but this is equally cold:
Stephen Bannon compared an explosive Washington Post report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl in 1979 to the “Access Hollywood” tape showing President Trump making lewd comments about women.
CBS News reported that Bannon, the former Trump White House chief strategist, made the comments during a speech in New Hampshire, remarking that the Post investigation was similar to the explosive leak of the “Access Hollywood” tape during the 2016 election.
“By the way, the Bezos Amazon Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump is the same Bezos Amazon Washington that dropped a dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore,” Bannon said Thursday.
“Is that a coincidence?” he asked.
Jeff Bezos created and owns Amazon. Bezos now owns the Washington Post. It’s big money, sort of like the bankers, screwing over the good ol’ boys. This is just one more dirty trick, but the Atlantic’s David Graham sees that a different way:
When the Trump tape landed in early October, along with stories from multiple women who alleged unwanted sexual contact of other kinds over the course of several decades, many Republican officeholders leaped to dissociate themselves from Trump. Many of them had never really liked him, and had supported other candidates in the GOP primary, endorsing him only reluctantly once he locked up the Republican nomination. After the tape, they reasoned that Trump was likely to lose anyway and might even be forced to withdraw his candidacy in the wake of the allegations. Better to jump ship and preserve moral standing than to back a candidate destined to lose anyway.
But a strange thing happened. Trump remained defiant and refused to withdraw. Some of the Republicans who had indignantly condemned him slunk back to support him, and on Election Day Trump shocked the nation by winning. Now Republican officeholders who had condemned him not only had a president-elect whose morals they disdained; they had to deal with him as president of the United States.
Today they face a similar dilemma: Condemn Moore? Or assume that in a post-Trump world he could well survive, and so keep quiet lest they alienate a future congressional colleague?
That makes this not a political dilemma, but a moral one:
The newest allegations against Moore present Republicans with a choice – not only individual officeholders, but the party as a whole, both nationally and in Alabama. Withdrawing support for Moore, and calling for voters not to support him, would be a bitter pill. It’s too late to replace him on the ticket, and although there’s talk of a Luther Strange write-in campaign, a Moore defeat would probably mean the seat goes to Democrat Doug Jones. And yet if the party’s members can’t bring themselves to set aside narrow partisan interest and condemn a man whom they despise, with a track record of bigotry, and with multiple on-the-record accusations of improper sexual misconduct with underage women, what behavior and which candidate can they possibly rule out in the future?
That also makes this Neil Young versus Lynyrd Skynyrd again. Young didn’t like that Southern Man. When will you pay them back? Lynyrd Skynyrd said a Southern Man don’t need no liberal snowflakes around anyhow. Republicans, forever caught between the bankers and the good ol’ boys, need to work this out.