Opinion

Opinion: Roy Moore, ‘Kinky Boots’ and 2017’s Most Important Election

All it needs is the bumper sticker: ‘Vote for the Democrat. It’s Important.’

It was folly for Republicans to believe Roy Moore could have been coaxed into exiting the Alabama Senate race, Shapiro writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The stay-at-home moms and retirees who watch the second soft hour of Tuesday’s “Today” show on local NBC affiliate WVTM were treated to a rare sighting of a Roy Moore commercial. Outspent by lopsided margins, the Moore campaign charged that the beleaguered Republican’s “40 years of honorable service” were threatened by smears from “a scheme by liberal Democrats and the Republican establishment.”

Set aside the implausibility that Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell (both pictured in the Moore ad) would cooperate on anything. Forget for a moment that the detailed on-the-record charges about Moore’s unseemly interest in young girls have been viewed as convincing by the likes of Jeff Sessions and Ivanka Trump.

Another commercial that appeared during the show’s 8 to 9 a.m. segment refuted everything Moore represents, especially since he is a candidate who said as recently as 2005 that homosexuality should be illegal.

The TV spot in question was not the bland bio ad for Democrat Doug Jones sponsored by Highway 31, a supportive super PAC. Rather, it was the breathless promo for January’s arrival of the touring roadshow of the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.”

What could be more of an anathema to the Alabama of Roy Moore than a musical (“This inspirational show is about acceptance”) featuring a dying shoe factory saved by making boots for drag queens.

Of course, Birmingham isn’t rural Alabama. And the short run of a traveling Broadway musical doesn’t need to attract a majority of local residents to break even.

Watch: Three Things to Watch as Alabama Barrels Toward Dec. 12

Sen. Moore?

But there is a “last hurrah” quality to the 70-year-old Moore’s campaign. This is why it was folly for Republicans like McConnell to believe Moore could be coaxed into abandoning the Senate race in favor of a more electable Republican.

What was Moore’s possible reward? It wasn’t as if the twice-defrocked Alabama judge were an obvious, confirmable choice for ambassador to France.

For McConnell, the only thing worse than Moore losing and cutting the GOP Senate margin to 51-49 would be Moore winning.

Bristling with well-justified enmity toward the GOP congressional leadership, Moore would be a wild card on every close vote. More than that, every intemperate comment by Moore would be seized on by Democrats as the authentic voice of the Republican Party.

It is also fanciful for Republicans to believe Moore could be expelled from the Senate on moral grounds if he won the Dec. 12 special election. The Constitution may be vague on the grounds for possible expulsion, but it is very specific about requiring a two-thirds Senate vote.

With Donald Trump loudly supporting Moore and many GOP senators nervous about breaking with Christian conservatives, McConnell would probably need 25-to-30 Democratic votes for expulsion. In a Senate governed by McConnell’s narrow sense of the politics of self-interest, it is difficult to imagine what would prompt Chuck Schumer to save the Republicans from Moore embarrassment.

Less than two weeks from the biggest election of 2017 (and, yes, that includes the Virginia governor’s race), it is hard to decide what is more amazing — that a Democrat could win a Senate seat in Alabama or that Moore could ride out a scandal that included on-the-record charges of him picking up a 14-year-old girl outside a child custody hearing.

With the polls gyrating — although Moore is often depicted with a narrow lead — the only pundits who dare predict the outcome are those who are such amnesiacs that they forget the 2016 election. In the best of circumstances, it is hard to develop turnout models for a special election just two weeks before Christmas in a state unused to competitive Senate races.

Atypical times

Zac McCrary, a Montgomery, Alabama-based Democratic pollster who is unaffiliated with the Jones campaign, stressed to me there is another factor that makes polling challenging: “There is a universe of conservative Republicans and independents out there who don’t even know if they’re going to turn out, let alone who they’re going to vote for.”

K.B. Forbes — whom I first met when he was a top aide to conservative populist presidential candidate Pat Buchanan in 1996 — is a model of an unlikely Jones voter. As he put it while we chatted over coffee Tuesday morning, “For the first time in my life, I will be voting for a Democrat for federal office.”

Forbes, who is launching a last-minute super PAC called Save Alabama Now, voted for Moore in the Republican Senate primary. But he is appalled at the charges against the former judge. Harking back to the 1991 gubernatorial race in Louisiana featuring a former KKK leader running as a Republican, Forbes said, “This is as bad as the primary that David Duke won.”

In that fall campaign in Louisiana, responsible voters in both parties embraced the oft-indicted former Democratic governor Edwin Edwards. That election, which Edwards won with 61 percent of the vote, inspired the greatest bumper sticker in political history: “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.”

The strongest factor favoring Moore is voter cynicism about politics. His public statements and his TV commercial imply there is something sinister about stories regarding his sexual history surfacing only a month before the election.

In truth, the downfall of Harvey Weinstein encouraged women to publicly come forward who otherwise would have remained in the shadows. And Washington Post reporters Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites deserve plaudits for turning long-standing rumors about Moore into an unimpeachable story.

All that’s missing in the current Senate race is a bumper sticker to attach to SUVs in upscale Republican suburbs: “Vote for the Democrat. It’s Important.”

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.  

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