I don't generally see eye to eye with Karl Rove, but about a week ago, the Republican operative reflected on Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, and he raised a perfectly legitimate point.
"Roy Moore would be the Todd Akin of 2017 and 2018 for every Republican on the ballot," said Karl Rove, the Republican strategist, who is aligned with the Senate Leadership Fund. "Republicans will be asked, 'Do you agree homosexuality should be punished by death, do you believe 9/11 was a result of God's anger?' He'll say outrageous things, the media will play it up, and every Republican will be asked, 'Do you agree with that?'"
Well, yeah, of course they'll be asked, "Do you agree with that?" Their party is poised to welcome to the Senate a theocrat who believes his radical religious beliefs supersede American laws. If Republicans are going to support Roy Moore's candidacy, it necessarily means they're at least comfortable with his brand of Christian nationalism.
And so Rove has a point. Are GOP senators on board with Moore's belief that religious minorities in the United States are not entitled to equal protection under the law? Do they support Moore's vision of fundamentalist Christianity being the nation's top legal authority? Do Republicans accept Moore's belief that he can ignore court rulings and court orders he doesn't like?
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) was asked about this on MSNBC yesterday, and the North Dakotan said he hadn't yet had time to review the Alabama Republican's record. There's a lot of this going around: Politico and the Huffington Post asked quite a few GOP senators about their comfort levels with Moore's extremism. The overall response was effectively, "Roy who?"
This isn't a sustainable posture.
I can appreciate the counter-argument: rank-and-file Republican lawmakers can't be expected to endorse every opinion of every candidate that carries the party's banner. Perhaps not, but imagine if the partisan picture were reversed.
In reality, it's probably unrealistic to think a genuine left-wing extremist could win a Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, but let's make one up. Imagine the great state of Springfield held a Senate primary and Democratic voters nominated a candidate who'd make abortions mandatory, demanded that the minimum wage go up to $10,000 an hour, and called for new laws that required millionaires to buy luxury cars for the homeless.
Then imagine Democratic leaders embraced that candidate, threw the party's full backing behind his statewide candidacy, and said he belonged in the U.S. Senate.
Would Republicans press Dems on their support for the candidate's radical beliefs? Would they shrug their collective shoulders if Democrats said they can't be expected to endorse every opinion of every candidate that flies under the party's banner?
An unnamed Republican senator told Politico yesterday, "We want to keep the majority, so we'd embrace just about anyone." This is a candid acknowledgement of what is plainly true: for much of the GOP, elections like these are purely tribal exercises, divorced from even the most fleeting thoughts about merit and the health of the American political system.
They may see Roy Moore as a lawless crackpot, but so long as they see an "R" after his name, they'll welcome him with open arms.
But with this position comes nagging questions. If Republicans want to support Moore out of a sense of knee-jerk partisan loyalty, fine. They should probably think of a decent answer, though, when the "Do you agree with that?" question comes up between now and the Dec. 12 election.