How do you solve a problem like Roy Moore? That's the dilemma Republicans in Washington are tearing their hair out about right now, and they're willing to contemplate almost anything. Should we cancel the upcoming special election in Alabama? Should we engineer a second special election? Should we refuse to let him take his seat in the Senate? What if we walk him in, but when he goes in the door marked "Cloak Room" there's a trap door that plunges him down to the center of the Earth, where the pressure created by the miles of rock above him compresses him down to the size of a peanut? Would that work?
Unfortunately for them, none of that is going to work. Roy Moore is their problem, and they're just going to have to live with it.
As of this writing, the number of women saying that Moore made passes at them (or much worse) when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s has risen to eight. Moore is sticking to his story that it's all a bunch of lies, deploying his creepy weirdo racist lawyer to cable news, and demanding that the yearbook one of his victims says he signed be subjected to handwriting analysis. The Alabama Republican Party is standing by his nomination, and the state's governor isn't going to cancel the special election set to take place on Dec. 12.
Which is why panicked Republicans on Capitol Hill have gone so far as to contemplate asking interim Sen. Luther Strange (whom Moore beat in the primary) to step down now, so as to trigger another special election to supercede the first special election. Election law expert Rick Hasen says that if Strange stepped down the original special election would probably just have to proceed, but the point is that they're getting truly desperate.
There's another solution they've contemplated, to refuse to seat Moore if he wins. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) says the law would forbid that (and she appears to be right), but they could expel him once he takes the seat. That's an option some prefer; Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who chairs the committee that helps elect Republicans, says the Senate "should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate." If they did that, the governor of Alabama (a Republican) would appoint a temporary successor.
The only trouble with that approach is that the only reason senators have been expelled from the body in the past is for treason, and it hasn't happened since the Civil War. There were a couple of more recent senators who may have been on their way toward expulsion after they were caught in various shenanigans, but they decided to resign.
There's a big problem with expelling Moore — apart from the fact that they'd need a two-thirds vote to do it, and Democrats might not cooperate — and that's the fact that if he wins, it means the voters were amply aware of his actions, but elected him anyway. As repellent as his behavior was, it took place before he would have been elected.
But when Mitch McConnell thinks he's going to lose, he changes the rules.
We've seen it before. When Barack Obama became president, McConnell said, Why don't we just filibuster literally everything more significant than the renaming of a post office? And so they did, despite the decades-long tradition of filibusters being used only in extreme cases. When Antonin Scalia died in February 2016 and President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill his seat, McConnell decided to invent a new rule, that in the last year of a president's term he's not allowed to fill any Supreme Court seats — if the president is a Democrat, that is. Garland wasn't even granted a hearing, let alone a vote, and now Neil Gorsuch sits in that stolen seat.
There's never any principle involved with McConnell (one biography of him was appropriately titled The Cynic); what matters is acquiring and holding power. But this time, Republicans need to accept that they're stuck with Roy Moore, because guess what: This happens all the time. There's a campaign in which some scandal emerges not long before the election, and voters have to decide whether it makes a difference to them. For instance, in 2000, we learned just a few days before the election that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunk driving years before and concealed it. He won anyway.
Granted, Moore's scandal is worse than most, but it's not like we've never confronted this kind of situation before. And there aren't many people who doubt that if Republicans re-ran their primary, Moore would win again. He may lose, but he still has the support of most Alabama Republicans.
So perhaps it's time for Mitch McConnell to accept that sometimes in politics, things don't go your way. You lose a close vote on a bill. An economic crisis changes the landscape of a race. Your electable candidate loses the primary. Or the guy you nominated turns out to have a thing for teenage girls. At this point, there's not much Republicans can do. Roy Moore is their guy, and they're stuck with him.