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Apparently, Child Rapists Deserve the Death Penalty, But a Child Molester Deserves a U.S. Senate Seat

Photo by FolsomNatural | CC BY 2.0

Roy Moore stands poised to win Tuesday’s special election for the United States Senate, thanks largely to enthusiastic support from Trump and his cult following in Alabama.

Normally, a Republican President rallying behind a Republican candidate in a deep red state would not make for a very interesting story. But these are not just any two Republicans. Both have been accused by many credible women of sexually assaulting them, some when they were adults (the Trump accusers), others when they were children/teen-agers (the Moore accusers).

All of this is interesting – and sad – enough. One would have hoped that both men would have gone the way of Herman Cain in 2011, when multiple accusations of sexual harassment forced him to drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Cain tried to stay on message, but they just kept asking him about those pesky accusations.

It wasn’t shame or embarrassment that motivated Cain to withdraw. Instead, the common wisdom was that the GOP in 2011, tinged with biblical self-righteousness, just could not bring themselves to support a sexually harassing businessman, successful as he may have been. But given the Trump/Moore axis that has recently developed, a more reasonable hypothesis is that the GOP dropped Cain less because of sexual harassment and more because he wasn’t white. Sexual harassment was merely the pretext that they needed to get rid of him for good.

The right has always pretended that they are morally superior to the left. But Trump and Moore have made, and will continue to make, this canard even more implausible than it already was.

To see just how far they have sunk, consider what four conservatives on the Supreme Court – Justices Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas – said in 2008 about child rape. Far from condoning it or doing their best to rationalize it, they insisted – against the majority – that it warranted capital punishment. It is clear from their passionate dissent in Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407, that their constitutional interpretation in this matter was motivated largely by their moral and religious beliefs. As they said, they had “little doubt that, in the eyes of ordinary Americans, the very worst child rapists—predators who seek out and inflict serious physical and emotional injury on defenseless young children—are the epitome of moral depravity.”

Within the space of only nine years, the right has moved from vigorously supporting the death penalty for “the very worst” child rapists to vigorously supporting a child molester for the United States Senate. There is no reconciling these contrary propositions. Instead, the right either has dramatically lowered their moral standards or, more likely, never really adhered to the moral standards they always professed in the first place. If Trump and Moore have achieved anything, it is to expose the morally bankrupt ends-justify-the-means, win-at-any-cost mentality driving the Republican Party, including the so-called “evangelicals” – people who purport to be following Jesus, not Machiavelli.

And for what ends are any means justified? What exactly are Republican voters winning?

They might respond that what they are winning is the high moral ground because only they are defending the rights of fetuses against abortion. But if this is all they have left, they are in very bad shape. Putting aside the moral ugliness of relentlessly pushing for the state to control women’s uteruses, congressional Republicans have completely undermined this last vestige of supposed moral superiority through (a) their callous, elitist, and anti-populist refusal to renew CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), which has helped to provide medical coverage to millions of children; (b) their promotion of a tax bill (the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”) that “delivers no significant benefits to families with children, including families with children younger than 3, in the lowest two-fifths of the income distribution” (Elaine Maag, “House And Senate Tax Bills Do Little For Most Families With Young Children,” Forbes, Nov. 29, 2017); and (c) their failure to renew DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

It is almost as if Trump-era Republicans have gone out of their way to embrace the absurd position that former Rep. Barney Frank once attributed to them: “[T]he right to life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

If Moore wins on Tuesday, Democrats across the country should campaign throughout 2018 on writer Jess Dweck’s recent modification of Frank’s insight: “For the GOP, childhood begins at conception and ends when a popular Republican molests you.”

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Ken Levy is the Holt B. Harrison Professor of Law at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University.

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