Editorial: The cost of the GOP civil war

The Detroit News

The urgency for Republicans to get a meaningful tax reform package through Congress grew this week with the sexual assault accusations against Judge Roy Moore, the GOP Senate candidate in Alabama.

Moore, the ultra social conservative who defeated appointed incumbent Luther Strange in the primary, was holding a small lead over his Democratic opponent in the Dec. 12 special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

With Strange, Alabama would have been a safe seat for Republicans. That’s why there was considered to be little risk to the party’s narrow Senate majority in President Trump’s tapping of Sessions for his cabinet.

But Moore, who made his name by fighting to get the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings, can no longer be counted on to hold the seat.

He is accused of fondling a 14-year-old girl more than four decades ago when he was a 32-year-old lawyer. Reports suggest other women are preparing to come forward with similar accusations of being assaulted by Moore when they were teenagers.

Pedophilia charges are not something a politician can easily survive.

Moore’s fellow Republicans outside Alabama are not rallying to his defense, instead saying that if the charges are true, Moore should step aside.

But proving the truth of 40-year-old allegations is virtually impossible. There is no physical evidence, nor any eyewitnesses. In reality, it matters little whether Moore’s accusers can prove the veracity of their claims; his challenge is to prove he didn’t do it. And that is even more impossible.

Should Moore step aside, the GOP establishment is suggesting the vanquished Strange return to the race. But he’d have to do so as a write-in candidate, since the deadline for replacing Moore on the ballot has passed; his name will remain whether or not he actively campaigns.

A write-in effort by Strange would likely split the Republican vote and assure a Democratic pick-up.

Odds of Moore being seated as Alabama’s new senator in January now seem slim. In itself, that’s a good thing, since Moore’s views are so out of the mainstream that he would become just another embarrassment to the Republican Party. He’s also an ideologue who would complicate efforts toward intra-party compromise.

But losing the Alabama seat would leave Republicans with a one-vote majority in the Senate come January. GOP senators would have to vote lock-step to get significant reforms in place, and the caucus has not demonstrated that inclination.

So the sense of urgency increases to get a tax package delivered to Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

With details of both the House and Senate packages now on the table, there’s some cause for optimism. The plans differ on significant issues, but not so substantially as to defy consensus.

If Republicans come to the realization that this may be the last chance to get tax reform done before the 2018 mid-term election season begins, the task may take on a greater sense of urgency.

Blame Steve Bannon for putting the GOP in this position. The rogue Republican strategist who was booted from Trump’s White House inner circle for flirting with white supremacists has declared war on those incumbent senators from his own party who don’t pledge full allegiance to Trump. His threat is to replace the incumbents with true believers like Moore.

Strange was his first victim, and that victory may prove hollow.

If this civil war results in a turn-over of the Senate to Democrats, the reforms conservatives hoped would be enacted by a Republican president and Congress are doomed.