SAN DIEGO – The Roy Moore scandal is as messy as they come. Yet, even through all the dirt and slime, some things have come into focus.
But first, the mess. Last week, The Washington Post published an article detailing the stories of four women who claim that the Alabama Republican pursued them in the 1970s when they were teenage girls. One of the accusers said Moore undressed and fondled her when she was just 14.
Now a fifth woman has come forth to say that Moore – who is running to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions – sexually assaulted her when she was 16 and Moore was the county’s top prosecutor.
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Beverly Young Nelson told reporters that, in 1977, she was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Gadsden, Alabama, and that Moore was a regular customer. One night, Nelson said, he offered to drive her home. Instead, she said, he wound up locking her in his car and forcing her head into his crotch as he struggled to pull her shirt off.
“I thought that he was going to rape me,” she said. “I was twisting, and I was struggling, and I was begging him to stop. I had tears running down my face.”
Moore finally relented, but he warned her to keep quiet, she said. “You’re just a child,” he allegedly told her. “I am the district attorney of Etowah County. And if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you.”
If Nelson is telling the truth, then Moore answered his own question about why his accusers haven’t come forward until now. He also would have acknowledged that – even in a state where the age of consent is 16 – a girl that age is still “a child.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Nelson said she will repeat her claims under oath – if she is called to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The candidate denies all the women’s accusations. We may never get to the bottom of this, and thus know with absolute certainty who is telling the truth.
Nevertheless, some things are clear. I count five.
–- Conservative TV and radio host Sean Hannity torpedoed Moore. What was meant to be a friendly radio interview backfired due to a series of inconsistent and incoherent answers from the candidate. When Hannity asked if Moore had dated girls as young as 17 while he was in his 30s, Moore responded: “Not generally, no.” So then, only on occasion?
– Moore’s supporters appear to be most hyped up not by their fondness for him, and a certainty that he did nothing wrong, but by their disgust with the media and their belief that the Fourth Estate will destroy anyone with a worldview different than its own.
– It hurts the media’s credibility that it focuses on the misbehavior of politicians yet comparatively underplays allegations of sexual harassment in its own sandbox by the likes of former ABC News Political Director and MSNBC analyst Mark Halperin, former NPR Vice President of News & Editorial Director Michael Oreskes and others.
– The issue isn’t just whether Moore did anything illegal. It’ll be enough to end his political career if Alabama voters decide that he behaved in a way that was immoral. Voters have the right to vote for or against someone based on integrity and character. If they decide Moore has neither, he’s done.
– And, even if Moore pulls off a political miracle and wins this Senate seat, it still won’t end the drama. We can expect GOP senators to refuse to seat him. And if he does get seated, he’ll be a pariah who is constantly at odds with his own party. One can’t be effective that way.
For Moore, the picture looks bleak.
Republicans in Washington have sent a message. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan say they believe the accusers and that Moore should step aside. Even Sessions, the man that Moore wants to replace – while not calling on the Republican to drop out of the race – said this week that he has “no reason to doubt these young women.”
Meanwhile, one of the creepier stories to emerge from all this revealed that Moore was reportedly banned from a local mall in the 1980s because he had a habit of hitting on teenage girls. It’s nice to know that some places still have standards of decency.
Does that include the Senate? We’ll have to wait and see.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.