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The politics behind the GOP's reversal on Roy Moore

It's hardly a stretch to think the vote on the Republican tax plan had something to do with the GOP's change of heart on Roy Moore's candidacy.
Image: Roy Moore
Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at an event at the Vestavia Hills Public library, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in...

Sen. Ben Sasse's (R-Neb.) perspective on Roy Moore's Senate candidacy is a little muddled. On the one hand, Sasse does not support Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, and thinks it's a mistake for Republicans to help Jones' campaign.

On the other hand, the Nebraska Republican responded to news that the Republican National Committee is investing $170,000 into the Alabama race by saying it's a "bad decision" and a "very sad day." Sasse added that he believes Moore's accusers, as did other Republican officials. "What's changed?" the senator asked this morning.

As it turns out, I think we know the answer. Indeed, when Donald Trump reversed course this week and embraced the right-wing candidate, the president wasn't exactly subtle.

"Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama," Trump said.

As Vox's Matt Yglesias explained yesterday, the connection between the Alabama race and tax breaks for the wealthy is growing stronger.

Back before Moore was accused of enjoying sexual predation of teen girls, he was already a controversial figure due to his habit of defying valid court orders, his view that Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress, his view that homosexuality is a "criminal lifestyle," etc. The GOP establishment wanted to nominate someone else for the seat, but when Moore won, they embraced his despite his disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution because -- in the immoral words of Rob Portman -- "he's going to be for tax reform, I think."That same calculus applies today.

The vote-counting arithmetic is pretty straightforward.

The Senate Republicans' tax bill passed the other day with 51 votes, leaving GOP leaders will very little room for error. Members are now starting to realize, however, that the just-passed Senate bill is a mess that will need to be largely rewritten in conference committee. Republicans are determined to advance the negotiations quickly, but the Senate special election in Alabama is just six days away -- and it's probably unrealistic to think the final version of the GOP tax plan will be ready for a vote by then.

If Doug Jones pulls off the upset, the Senate Republicans' majority will shrink from 52 members to 51. At that point, if any two GOP senators balk at the party's priority, it fails.

How likely is that? Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) already rejected his party's plan over deficit concerns, and it's hardly outlandish to believe Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) may reverse course if the final version is even more radical than the one she voted for on Friday night.

What's more, if it's a 51-49 Senate, individual Republican members would suddenly have considerable leverage, able to tell their leaders to meet their demands or else.

What caused Republicans to discover that they're not that concerned about Roy Moore's child-molestation allegations anymore? It's hardly a stretch to think the vote on the party's tax plan had something to do with it.