The people of Alabama would be well served if both Roy Moore and Doug Jones withdraw from the December 12 election, with both major parties formally acquiescing, effectively forcing the election to be postponed until November of next year.
Both candidates, or either, could run again next year, but without the circus atmosphere, confusion, and doubts engendered by post-primary allegations of super-serious moral transgressions by Moore.
Elections are meant to serve the public interest, not the ambitions of candidates.
Yet if the election is held in three weeks, almost any result will be seen as at least a somewhat illegitimate reflection of the actual will of the Alabama majority.
For purposes of this thought experiment, let’s assume that the two worst allegations against Moore – the disrobing and sexual touching of a 14-year-old, and the forceful groping and threatening of a 16-year-old – are not true. What remains is the likelihood, not even directly denied by Moore, that when he was in his late 20s and early 30s he regularly trolled the mall at least for older teens, whom he persisted in pursuing even after some of the girls/young women initially demurred. So many sources have independently described these habits of Moore’s that the odds they are untrue are very low.
If so, several considerations apply. First, even apart from what some describe as “creepiness” (a subjective standard indeed), behavior can be seriously wrong, and perhaps disqualifyingly immoral, without being illegal. It is one thing for a 32-year-old to happen to be impressed with a single 18-year-old who seems emotionally and intellectually mature, and to ask her out with her parents’ permission, and treat her like a gentleman treats a lady. (Such was one of the stories told about Moore.)
It is another thing entirely to regularly target girls or young women in that age range, including perhaps those under 18 even if technically over the legal “age of consent.” The latter behavior, if true, is quite arguably categorizable as predatory.
These highly credible stories (again, making no judgment on the two worst allegations) were completely unknown to almost every Alabama Republican voter during the two primary elections. They are of a nature disturbing enough that a sizable percentage of such voters might have voted differently if they had known. Back then, they did not have a full picture of Roy Moore. If indeed the new picture is true, it is not fair to those voters to present them with an entirely different choice than the one they thought they were giving themselves when they cast primary votes.
(And, of course, if the story involving the 14-year-old is true, then that alone should be utterly disqualifying of Moore. If it and some of the other more serious allegations are false, though, they are collectively one of the most horrid smears in American political memory.)
The only way to be sure voters have a fair choice is for Moore to run again in a new primary under his own power (or to choose not to do so), after having plenty of time to clear his name, and with voters having the chance to weigh all the information over a significant period of time.
Otherwise, Republican voters will have been unfairly treated, with their choices limited under less-than-fully-true pretenses. And they now face a choice between a nominee they now may believe is morally disqualified and a Democratic nominee whose beliefs they find utterly untenable.
That’s why it would be fair and reasonable for Moore to pull out of this election.
By logical extension, Jones would be right to do the same.
In considering this second assertion, let’s stipulate that if the election were only about what’s fair to Jones, the assertion isn’t entirely valid. It is decidedly not Jones’ fault that his opponent’s campaign may be imploding. Jones has run a marvelously astute political campaign with a brilliant series of TV ads, and he does seem to have an admirable record of public service. Serious candidates considered long shots enter races like this one hoping and knowing that their only likelihood of success will come from extraordinary luck joining their own competent campaigns – so of course they shouldn’t be punished when such luck does break their way.
On the other hand, this isn’t just ordinary luck, and his opponent isn’t facing just the ordinary sort of political allegations. No possible issue is more fraught with moral revulsion than the sexual abuse of a minor. If you’re Doug Jones, how could you live with yourself in knowing that a primary factor in your election is that a substantial portion of voters who otherwise would never vote for you are doing so because they believe (accurately or not) that your opponent is… well, a child molester?
And if you are Jones and you truly mean the election to be not about what is fair for you, but instead about doing right by the voters, then how can you countenance making Alabamans vote under such duress, without having a straight-up choice between two men and governmental philosophies hindered by accusations of ephebophilia?
If Jones really is who Alabamans want for their senator, he should be able to win in a “normal” election in 2018, not just in a morally compromised special election on December 12 of this year.
The only people who really ought to matter here are the ordinary citizens of Alabama. The “win-win” call is for both current nominees to pull out; for the election to thus be cancelled by mutual consent; for current appointee Luther Strange to serve through 2018 but promise that he won’t himself run next year (because he already has been rejected by the voters); for Jones to run again in 2018; and for Moore and state Republicans to decide what is best for themselves once the immediate smoke has cleared.
Is this practical? In today’s political world, not really. But would it be the best scenario for Alabama? Most certainly.
If Jones and Moore are true statesmen, they’ll both withdraw.
Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.