Opinion

SLOAN: Cory Gardner got it right in his approach to the Moore fiasco

Author: Kelly Sloan - December 19, 2017 - Updated: December 19, 2017

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Kelly Sloan
Kelly Sloan

Roy Moore lost his bid for U.S. Senate in Alabama last week, and Democrats around the nation celebrated – rightly so, inasmuch as the victory in deepest-of-deep-red Alabama chiseled the GOP Senate majority to a bare 51-49. In their exuberance, many Democrats and liberals hailed the election as a bellwether for the mid-term elections, a catalyst setting off a chain of victories in a Democratic sweep in 2018.

The important thing to note about the episode is not that Doug Jones won, but that Roy Moore lost. Moore, to say the least, was a deeply flawed candidate; not only was he accused, credibly one might add, of predatory behavior toward underage girls (enough, traditionally, to tank anyone’s candidacy) but he had also lost the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and demonstrated a stunning lack of competency in communicating effectively, even to allies. Republicans, unsurprisingly, stayed home in droves. Defeating a character like this is hardly an awe-inspiring achievement, even considering the political predisposition of Alabama. That Mr. Jones defeated him by only one-and-a-half percentage points ought to be reason more for pause than elation.

So perhaps the lesson here is not that Middle America is poised, preternaturally, to send scores of Democrats to Washington in the mid-terms — an event which, nonetheless, could still very well occur. No, the lesson is more for Republicans on how not to guarantee that outcome.

Sen. Cory Gardner is to be commended on how he handled the Moore situation from the start. Even before the sexual impropriety allegations, Moore was something of a trainwreck. He was philosophically far more inclined to populism than to conservatism. His expressed understanding of many issues was… unique…, and his fealty to the Constitution questionable; certainly his judgment was suspect. Because of this he would have been held up, erroneously, as something of an exemplar by those who wish to reduce conservatism to a caricature, and relegate the movement to the pre-fusion periphery.

So Gardner handled Moore as he ought to have. He was entirely correct, for instance, to denounce Moore as being unsuitable for the U.S. Senate and as a standard-bearer for the party. He was correct in ensuring the NRSC pulled its support. He was correct in calling for Moore’s expulsion were he to be elected. He was even correct in his assessment following the election, expressed in a tweet, that perhaps Mr. Jones — given the rather unique circumstances of his election — ought to do the right thing and caucus with the Republicans.

It’s unlikely that will happen, of course. But Jones has to know, deep down, that the good people of Alabama did not elect him for his allegiance to the values of Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren.

Assuming that Jones won’t heed Gardner’s advice, we plow ahead to uncover epistemological nuggets the GOP can mine from the experience. First, rather clearly, is that Steve Bannon is probably not the white horse the party needs to stave off embarrassment in 2018. Bannon’s war on the conservative establishment can serve only one function, and that is to elect Democrats, a goal conducive to his stated objective of removing Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority leader.

We also learn that character still matters, just as much as it did in the 1990s and 2000s. This ought to include a proscription, by conservatives, of sexual impropriety. The current spate of revelations involving sexual harassment and worse should come as no surprise to a society which has embraced the vacuous morality of the sexual revolution, reducing the greater part of human existence to the carnal. This is an impulse that conservatism has resisted, and should continue to.

At the same time, we must be vigilant against the use of such toxic allegations as political weapons, and recognize that the potency of such an accusation offers the potential for abuse, an acknowledgement that must be reconciled with the reality of predatory behavior. As a society we also need to resurrect the ability to distinguish; between, say, awkward persistence in courtship or commenting on one’s appearance, and the explicit or implicit forcing of oneself on another, while cultivating intolerance for the latter.

Moral behavior is only part of the calculus. The Republican party remains conservatism’s political home, trusted to vouchsafe the legacy of academics such as Voegelin and Oakeshott, writers such as Chesterton and William F. Buckley Jr., and statesmen such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Armstrong. High bars, indeed; but is Roy Moore really suitable to include in that lineage?

Sen. Gardner doesn’t appear to think so. And if, per impossible he is wrong, then Republicans deserve to lose in 2018, and to shoulder blame for consequences, cultural and economic, of that loss.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.