There’s no getting around it. A great number of conservatives and populists feel tempted to support Roy Moore in his Senate bid, despite the increasingly credible accusations of his acting like a total creep with teenage girls.
Some try to justify Moore by insistently doubting the accusers. Others accept that some of the charges might be true but, turning to Scripture, note that God often calls compromised men into his service. But by far the most common objection to ditching Moore is that supporting him is a matter of political realism and expediency. “We’re at war,” they say, “and you go with the army you have, not the one you’d like.” Or, more logically, “I want to see conservative policies enacted. I dread Democratic policies. He’s the Republican nominee. The Republicans need his vote in the Senate.”
Ultimately, it is an argument for lowering standards. Conservatives lost the fight for “character” in the 1990s, didn’t they? Then they lost it again in the 2000s, if you looked closely at Jack Abramoff and his buddies in Congress. Don’t get squeamish about these things now, they say.
In response I might offer the following. Consider the lesson on offer in the first year of Donald Trump’s administration. Many of the same arguments for supporting Moore were offered to those of us who objected to Trump on the matter of his character.
I believe that if you want to shake things up in Washington, lowering your standards for character is suicidal. If you believe that the Establishment is out to fleece you today, skin you tomorrow, and hang you as a warning to others next week, then you need to raise up better men, not worse. A corrupt man can find a place in a corrupt Establishment, but only men who are nearly indestructible — uncompromised and uncompromising — can really challenge one.
Donald Trump’s presidency, and its manifest inability to move the political ball forward, reflects the character of the man himself. Has he pursued his populist agenda? Do you feel like the globalists are routed? Is the GOP becoming a worker’s party because of his efforts? And is he putting his shoulder to the wheel to create a new great health-care system that would “take care of everyone?”
Moore would not advance the ball for religious and social conservatives. His ethical lapses would distract from his ability to use the powers of his office for his supporters.
Of course not. He is vain. And so he is too busy watching TV and finding ways to burrow himself deeper into the news cycle. He is self-obsessed and so he sees the office as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement, even for his own amusement. His presidency has been dominated by his scandals, and not only because the Establishment is defending itself. He hired incompetent or corrupt people, men like Paul Manafort who get rich by representing the interests of others. His shortcuts make it harder for him to pursue his agenda. His laziness ensures that his political capital is spent chasing Paul Ryan’s agenda, when he’s not spending it protecting himself.
And in a similar way Moore would not advance the ball for religious and social conservatives. His ethical lapses would distract from his ability to use the powers of his office for his supporters. His scandals would also caution the public against cooperating with the election of others who share Roy Moore’s convictions and politics.
I take it as a given that many conservatives and right-wingers oppose “the system” as they see it. But they are too often tempted to imitate it, or sink to its low ethical level when their urgent social and political need is to become obviously finer and more competent than their opponents. If social conservatives really are marginal to their party and the larger political system, they have to become impeccable, efficient, and admirable. They have to be admired even by people who are inclined to dislike them. That’s how you overcome the odds.