With Alabama's U.S. Senate special election just two months away, most recent polling shows Roy Moore (R) with a modest lead over Doug Jones (D). The extremist Republican is clearly the favorite, but his advantage is hardly insurmountable.
With this in mind, the political world was jolted a bit yesterday when Fox News released a new statewide poll of its own, showing the race tied at 42% each.
It's probably wise to take the results with a grain of salt -- it looks like an outlier, and there are some legitimate questions about Fox's methodology -- but the poll was nevertheless a reminder that Alabama's race is relatively competitive, thanks in part to Roy Moore's radicalism and record that got him thrown off the state Supreme Court (twice).
The broader question, meanwhile, is what Republican officials are thinking about his candidacy at this point. The New Republic's Jeet Heer had a compelling take yesterday, following Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) endorsement of Moore.
Paul's statement is the latest evidence that the Republican Party is going to fall in line behind Moore, despite his long record of political extremism. (Senator Mike Lee of Utah endorsed Moore yesterday.) In doing so, the party is following the pattern that we saw during Donald Trump's presidential candidacy. After the initial qualms about an unfit and extremist candidate, most Republican lawmakers came around to Trump, showing that partisan affiliation outweighed all other considerations.The last federal election proved that the Republicans are the party of Donald Trump. But the party has since showed that, once Trump is gone, it is prepared to become the party of Roy Moore and whoever else might succeed him.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes added yesterday, "GOP senators from across the spectrum of their coalition endorsing Roy Moore shows that Trump is a symptom not a cause."
I tend to look at this as a test of sorts. Roy Moore is a unique kind of radical in modern American politics: he believes he can ignore court rulings he doesn't like; the Alabama Republican blamed 9/11 on Americans; he's argued that homosexuality should be illegal; Moore is on record saying that religious minorities he disapproves of shouldn't be allowed to serve in Congress, election results be damned; and he's argued that pre-school is a Nazi-like institution for brainwashing children into being liberal.
Moore was also caught profiting handsomely from a non-profit organization he helped create, despite public assurances that he wasn't taking a salary from the group.
The challenge for Republican officials is simple: will they concede that Moore does not belong in the U.S. Senate? The answer is no. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was willing to say he's "troubled" by Moore's record, but that's about it.
Moore has an "R" after his name and he may vote to give tax breaks to the wealthy. For today's Republican Party, which is equally willing to ignore Donald Trump's disqualifying attributes, little else seems to matter.
The GOP Is facing a test that it's failing badly.