What do you think when you hear a candidate say the country was better off in the mid-1800s than today? Sure, slavery was bad and we should get rid of that, but otherwise the country was better off? What do you hear when that same candidate says if we got rid of all the constitutional amendments after the first 10, the country would be better off?
If you’re a middle aged white guy, you might be nodding your head. You don’t have a problem getting rid of direct election of senators. You are sure that even without an amendment women would still have the right to vote and, if not, no big deal. You hate the income tax so good riddance. You don’t know much about the rest.
Candidates matter and when Roy Moore said such things you might not have been bothered, but I assure you every single black friend of mine was deeply bothered to hear a Republican candidate and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice declare that we were better off in the days of slavery even if slavery was a bad thing. And when he said he was opposed to slavery, but then championed getting rid of the constitutional amendment that banned slavery, you will have to excuse them for not believing him.
Roy Moore had never performed well in upper ballot races. To the extent his supporters championed his ability to win statewide races, Roy won down ballot races. Every time he was on the top of the ballot, he failed. In fact, in his last successful statewide race in Alabama, Moore underperformed Mitt Romney by 10 percent. But, to be fair, had Moore not faced allegations of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls he probably still would have won.
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There is something to be said for the moral decay of the United States that a man could face credible allegations of child molestation and still come close to winning a Senate seat. And yes, they were credible. They were credible because they met the same standard of evidence Donald Trump had used to hold up Paula Jones, Juanita Broderick, and Kathleen Willey. They were credible because the various girls all told people concurrently when the events happened. And they were credible because Roy Moore admitted to dating teenagers as a 30 year old and I do not care what decade it was in, it was creepy. Lastly, they were credible because the best defense Moore’s supporters could run with was it didn’t happen, but if it did, the girls consented. That is not a compelling message. And I am not even talking about the allegations of Gloria Allred’s client.
Candidates matter. Had Roy Moore handled the allegations differently, he might have gotten elected. Instead, he decided to behave like Donald Trump. He changed his story going from knowing some of the accusers to not knowing them at all. He attacked the press corps and claimed it was all a hit job. And then he talked about his Jew friends and black friends. Look at my African American over here, said Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Roy Moore was no better. But at least Donald Trump never called for the repeal of the amendment prohibiting slavery.
Any other Republican would have won. There is only so much one can read into a special election in Alabama, but we can read that into it. We can read into it that the caliber of a candidate can affect a race. And we can read into it that Democrats are highly motivated heading into 2018.
Erick Erickson is a radio talk show host in Atlanta and a former Macon city councilman.