William Saletan writes: The battle within the Republican Party has come down to this: Is it OK for a 32-year-old man to seduce a 14-year-old girl?
On one side are the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan. They have disowned Roy Moore, the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, over allegations that he targeted, and in some cases molested, minors and other teen girls. On the other side are social conservatives, including Alabama’s state auditor, who argue that courtship between an older man and a teenage girl is consensual, biblical, good for the girl, and grounded in the natural attraction of a godly man to the “purity of a young woman.” Alongside the purity camp is the tolerance camp, led by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. These Republicans don’t deny the allegations or endorse Moore’s conduct, but they support him anyway, reasoning that other issues are more important.
Many Republicans are afraid to take sides in this debate. They want to stick with the GOP nominee, or at least avoid antagonizing voters who support him. But they don’t want to defend the sexual exploitation of minors. So they’ve staked out a neutral position: Moore is innocent until proven guilty. President Trump adopted this position on Tuesday, urging voters not to elect Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. A reporter asked Trump: “Is Roy Moore, a child molester, better than a Democrat?” The president replied: “Well, he denies it. … He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen.”
This position sounds reasonable, but it’s a sham. Moore’s denials are designed to provide cover for Trump, Sean Hannity, Alabama’s Republican congressmen, and others who don’t want to acknowledge Moore’s sins. But factually, the denials have already collapsed. It’s time to sweep them out of the way.
Let’s start with the premise of the innocence argument: that voters should discount the allegations until they’re proven in court. That sounds fair, but it’s impossible. The alleged offenses took place decades ago, well outside Alabama’s statute of limitations. Moore can’t be charged or sued. His accusers will never get their day in court, unless he agrees to testify under oath, which could subject him to prosecution for perjury. Naturally, he has declined this challenge. So anyone who tells you to ignore the allegations until they’re validated in court is telling you, in effect, to ignore them forever. [Continue reading…]