By the time Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the majority , made the last of his repeated calls to President Trump to stand aside from Senate candidacy for Roy S. Moore, it was too late.
To Mr. McConnell, only the president could extinguish a fire that he considers to be endangering Senate Majority of Republicans. But Mr Trump, speaking by telephone last Tuesday with Mr McConnell, responded with the same argument that he had made for days inside the White House.
Women who called Mr. Moore a sexual predator, the president believes, may not tell the truth.
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"Forty years c & It's been a long time running eight races, and that never happened, "Trump told television cameras on the South Lawns after his conversation with Mr. McConnell, actually endorsing Mr. Moore before embarking Marine One. "He says that it did not happen," added the president. "You must also listen to it."
Trump's decision to reject every long-term plan to save the Senate seat reflects the imperative that an unpopular president copes with retaining his political base, the determination that he should follow his own instincts after he's gone. to be felt led into a disastrous earlier approval in the race of Alabama, and even his insistence to say that he himself was I was the victim of false accusations of sexual misconduct.
But while attaching to Mr. Moore even as congressional leaders abandoned the candidate en masse, the president revived hostilities. his own party, just as Senate Republicans are rushing to pass a politically crucial tax reform. Mr. McConnell and his allies were particularly furious because Mr. Trump reacted with indifference to a series of ideas that they launched to try to block Mr. Moore.
The charges against Mr. Moore raised the Democrats. The hopes of winning a rare victory in the Deep South in next month's special elections, which would reduce the majority of the Republican Senate to one seat. Just as significantly, the president gave Democrats a political weapon to beat Republicans in the midterm elections: that they tolerate the predation of children.
"I was surprised, and I think it's a high-risk move," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who established a relationship with M Trump.
Mr. Moore rejected calls to give up even though more and more women accused him of abusing them. abandoned all hope that he will bend his campaign Mr. Trump repeatedly told his aides that he did not believe that Mr. Moore would ever resign.
What the President n & # 39; Not expected, that is that friction would reach his immediate family.He expressed his dissatisfaction when his daughter Ivanka lashed out at Mr. Moore saying that there was "a special place in hell for them." people who attack children ", according to three staff members who heard his comments.
" Do you believe? this? "Mr. Trump has asked for several aides in the Oval Office." Mr. Moore's Democratic opponent in the Alabama race, Doug Jones, quickly turned his comments into an advertising campaign
] But something deeper was consumed by Mr. Trump.He sees calls for Mr. Moore to dismiss as a version of the response to the now-famous "Access Hollywood" tape, in which he boasted seizing women's genitals, and the flow of groping accusations that followed soon after.He suggested to a senator earlier this year that he was not genuine, and has repeated this claim to a counselor more recently. (In the hours following his revelation in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that his voice was his, and he apologized.)
Mr. Trump was therefore particularly open to the idea, pushed by Mr. Moore. that the candidate is wrongly accused, even though Mr. McConnell and a parade of other Republicans have said that they believe the accusers. When a group of senators met with the president at the White House last week to discuss the tax review, it took little time for Mr. Trump to talk about Mr. Moore – and he immediately proposed the same thing -. years ago, according to officials at the meeting.
Mr. Trump's responses to Moore's revelations were made but not consistent. He accepted the initial denials of the candidate, then was shocked by the slowness with which Mr. Moore appeared when asked in an interview with Sean Hannity that he still maintained his innocence. , according to a person close to the president
. Mr Trump acknowledged that he is making a cold political calculation in the hope that Republicans will remain at headquarters. A White House official on Saturday reiterated the president's view that he believes Moore should leave the race if the allegations prove true, but the official pointed out that the candidate had refused them.
Trump's lack of action, party leaders have explored – and abandoned – a number of ways to derail Mr. Moore. They considered recruiting another Republican to launch a written campaign against Mr. Moore and Mr. Jones, but two private polls showed that such a candidacy would have no chance of success.
The two polls, commissioned by Republican groups In mid-November, Mr. Jones concluded that Mr. Moore had conducted a one-on-one election and that he had won a race to three, according to the people who looked at the results. Public polls indicated a very close race
. McConnell and his allies have believed for weeks that the disaster will wait, win or lose, if Mr. Moore stays in the race: Either the Democrats will claim the siege on December 12, or Mr. Moore will win and sink the party into an agony
The Senate leader privately told his Republican colleagues that Moore's nomination had jeopardized the party's grip on the Senate, according to those who spoke to him – his greater recognition. far as the political environment has abruptly returned against his party since the election of Mr. Trump. Mr. McConnell also reiterated his intention to act against Mr. Moore when he was elected, although Mr. McConnell made it clear that he thinks the candidate is unlikely to win.
Otherwise, Senate Republicans began to put some distance between themselves and the president, a violation that could expand in the event of deportation proceedings.
"As much as people would like to assume that, as Louis XIV said," I am in the state "there is more than one person who represents the Republican Party, and the preponderance of the party "It's dissociated from Moore," said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
The president ridiculed Congress Republicans with his defense of Mr. Moore. , who was a polarizing figure – he said that homosexual behavior should be illegal – long before being accused of "stealing". having made sexual advances on minors while he was a prosecutor in his thirties.
Mr. McConnell even appealed to Washington campaign lawyers with experience in the Alabama elections to write a four-page memo outlining a legal way to block Mr. Moore's path, but the White House office completely ignored the document. "All you can do is identify a way out of trouble, and if people do not want to follow it, it's on them," said Josh Holmes, one of the Mr. McConnell's closest political advisers.
. McConnell and his lieutenants considered a written candidacy and found the prospect of wooing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose former seat is at stake, to be particularly attractive.
And Senate Republicans Initially Appeared to Have Allies in the West Wing: Mr. McConnell found Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence receptive when he spoke to them for the first time about disavowing Mr. Moore .
But even before Mr. Trump returned to American soil, he became ill at ease.
Coming back from Asia, aides told Mr. Trump that the Republican National Committee was taking care of the situation in Moore. Some of Mr. Trump's advisers insisted that the decision to cut the funds was sound, but by the time he returned to the White House, he had heard other people think that the decision was wrong, according to two officials close to the president.
Shortly after, the former chief's chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, began urging Mr. Trump not to break up with Mr. Moore, arguing that he did not should not make cross with his electorate, although it is not clear if the two men spoke directly. The President continues to be concerned about his decision to fly to Alabama in September on behalf of Senator Luther Strange, the incumbent, but to see Strange lose more than nine points.
Pence, after publishing a statement criticizing Mr. Moore, has since followed the example of the president. At a recent meeting of the Association of Republican Governors, Mr. Pence met privately with Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, according to Republican officials familiar with the conversation.
The vice president inquired about the governor's opinion. but did not insist on Mrs. Ivey on Mr. Moore. She has shown no willingness to intervene, only reiterating to Mr. Pence that the Alabamians will deliver their judgment and that the elections will be held next month as scheduled. (When Senator Richard C. Shelby, Alabama's highest legislator, called Ms. Ivey, she barely let him speak before informing her bluntly that she did not would not change the date.)
Trump did not speak with Mrs. Ivey, which made Mr. McConnell's last Ave Maria inconstant
The campaign lawyers commissioned by The Senate chief last week sent a note to White House lawyer Donald F. McGahn. II, arguing that, on the basis of the Alabama precedent, if Mr. Strange were to resign, Ms. Ivey could appoint a new senator. They also argued that Ms. Ivey was entitled to delay the special election
"Our recommendation is to combine steps 1 and 2: strange resignations; the governor fills the vacant position with a new appointee; and the governor delays the special election to give the new candidate time to run as an independent candidate, "the lawyers wrote.
If Mr. Jones won, the Democrats would need than two more seats in 2018 a majority in the Senate – still a difficult task, but a task almost unimaginable just a month ago.A victory for Mr. Moore could be just as punitive for Republicans as it could taint their candidates across the country in association with a man accused of sexual assault.
Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist close to Mr. McConnell, said the race had turned into a situation without Victory.
"Either we are saddled with a democrat in a seat that should be Republican," said Mr. Jennings, "or we are saddled with a branded anvil that will bring down the president to drag the Senate, drag the party and plunge the Senate into immediate turmoil when it gets there.
For his part, Mr. Moore's campaign is thrilled with "We are going to impress on Alabama voters that Roy Moore is the candidate to help President Trump get a Conservative Supreme Court and to cut taxes, "said Brett Doster, one of Moore's top advisers." That will be included in our ads, certainly. "
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