After Roy Moore secured the Republican nomination to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat in the U.S. Senate, the Washington Post ran an article claiming that, roughly four decades ago, Moore had dated two teenage girls and asked out a third in front of her mother, who did not approve. These girls were over the age of consent (16), and none of the dates involved more than kissing, according to the Post account. The article also claimed that Moore had sexually assaulted one teenage girl, Leigh Corfman, 14 years old at the time. Later, another woman, Beverly Nelson, claimed that Moore had sexually assaulted her in 1977 when she was 16, and also pointed to what she said was Moore’s handwriting in her high-school yearbook to buttress her charge.
The Post’s obvious intent was to deprive the GOP of a seat in the Senate: The story did not run until it was too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot. Numerous media outlets used the Post story to brand Moore as a pedophile and a predator. They had energetic allies among “conservatives” who had opposed Trump’s candidacy. Rod Dreher, who had sought to convince Christians that it was immoral to vote for Trump, used his perch at The American Conservative to announce that he would vote for “the pro-abortion radical Doug Jones” if he lived in Alabama and to argue that evangelical Christian support for Moore risked driving millennials away from Christianity and the Republican Party. Dreher also quoted with approval a reader’s claim that pro-Moore evangelicals were “trapped in the 1950s” and represented “white resentment at prayer.” National Review ran dozens of anti-Moore pieces, including several by David French, who was briefly considered by Bill Kristol for the role of anti-Trump presidential candidate. Ross Douthat at the New York Times predicted that the Moore candidacy could break apart American evangelicalism by dividing the “winsome and multiethnic evangelicalism envisioned by the anti-Trump Southern Baptist Russell Moore” from “the nationalist evangelicalism of a Jerry Falwell Jr. or Robert Jeffress.” Joe Carter, an evangelical ally of Russell Moore, wrote that those supporting Roy Moore were guilty of “hypocrisy” and were not “person[s] of integrity.” The message from the #NeverTrumpers was clear: Only a bad person, and quite possibly a racist, would support Moore. The echo of Hillary’s denunciation of the “deplorables” was unmistakable.
Overlooked in this crescendo of sanctimony was that there was a perfectly reasonable case for voting for Moore. He denied any wrongdoing, and all of the allegations were over three-and-a-half decades old, surfacing only weeks before the election. Nelson admitted that some of the yearbook writing she claimed was Moore’s was in fact hers, and her lawyer refused to turn the evidence over for an independent forensic examination. Then there was the inescapable fact that political power conservatives declined to exercise would be exercised instead by a Democratic Party increasingly driven by hatred for the types of voters who supported Trump and Moore. As even Dreher noted after Moore lost, “the survival of many Christian colleges may literally depend on maintaining a Republican majority.” To buttress this point, Dreher noted that every Democrat on a House Committee had just voted to strike language preventing the federal government from taking adverse action against religious colleges admitting students who receive federal student loans on the basis of the school’s religious mission. Indeed, even though the Trump administration has reversed the Obama administration’s policy of requiring religious institutions to provide contraceptives and abortifacients to employees, Democratic state attorneys general are now filing suit in federal court to challenge Trump’s reversal. At the very least, Moore would have voted for judicial nominees likely to recognize the right of Christian organizations to follow Christian morality. Doug Jones, whose election was championed by Dreher, Douthat, French, and Carter, will instead vote against such nominees.
Many #NeverTrumpers were exultant when Moore lost and Jones won. At National Review, Robert VerBruggen thanked “Alabama Democrats for stepping up and making a special effort,” and David French wrote that Roy Moore was “the zombie manifestation of the Old South: resentful, nostalgic for the days of slavery, openly bigoted. His supporters and apologists were walking, talking caricatures of the region’s very worst.” Such open disdain for Alabama Republicans is shocking, since Republicans have no chance of winning nationally without winning large majorities among evangelicals and white Southerners. But at this point it is clear that #NeverTrump “conservatives” have little interest in winning. They would rather be decorous losers or peddle fantasies about securing Christian autonomy by ceding politics to the left than try to build coalitions that can actually secure and maintain political power, because all possible conservative coalitions contain millions of voters they, no less than Hillary, regard as irredeemably backward. The New Deplorables are on their own.