Politics

The Political Calculations Behind Al Franken’s Resignation and Trump’s Support for Roy Moore

The resignation of Al Franken comes with nothing but positive political consequences for the Democrats, who were able to toss one of their own overboard without losing a critical Senate seat. Franken’s replacement is likely to be Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith, who will vote lockstep with the party and thereby maintain their current level of influence.

Indeed, the bloodless Franken coup allows the Democrats to obtain the moral high ground at no political cost. If the governor of Minnesota were a Republican, it would have made Franken’s ouster far less likely. As it stands, Democrats now get to congratulate themselves for doing the right thing and seizing the moral high ground, thereby shaming Republicans into confronting the alleged pedophile who is poised to win a Senate seat in Alabama.

Democrats could afford to lose Franken, Republicans can’t afford to lose a seat

As Roy Moore’s victory becomes increasingly likely, the retreating Republican moral outrage is a sickening sight to behold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially called on Moore to drop out of the race, but he’s since managed to rise above principle. “I think we’re going to let the people of Alabama decide a week from Tuesday who they want to send to the Senate,” he said this week, “and then we’ll address the matter appropriately.”

It’s that second clause that should have Moore shaking in his boots. Defenders of Moore, like the president, don’t try to pretend that their current support is anything but a craven political calculation.

Notice what’s not in that tweet – any protestation of Moore’s innocence. The unmistakable message is that the GOP can’t afford to lose a critical vote from their wafer-thin 52-seat majority, and even a pedophile is preferable to a “Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”. Jeff Flake’s campaign donation to Doug Jones notwithstanding, Republicans on the whole are unwilling to stand up to a predator if it means sacrificing any degree of power.

Roy Moore could still be forced out if he won the election

But if Moore does win, that changes the political calculus considerably.

If a Senator Moore were to resign or be removed from office, the Republican governor of Alabama would choose his replacement, who would undoubtedly be another Republican, presumably a less repugnant one. That means that McConnell and Co. would be in the position that the Democrats are in now – they could throw one of their own under the bus without getting their hands dirty. And that’s not only possible – it becomes increasingly likely as Republicans draw closer to their 2018 midterm report card.

The precedent to look at here is not Al Franken, but Bob Packwood, who resigned in 1995 after the Senate Ethics Committee recommended expelling him for sexual misconduct. Packwood’s sins were on par with Franken’s and less egregious than the charges against Moore. The irony is that Packwood’s vacated seat was won by Democrat Ron Wyden. Mitch McConnell, during the Clinton impeachment trial four years after Packwood’s departure, said that the shift in power was a small price to pay, as the Republican choice was to “retain the Senate seat or retain our honor.”

In the case of Moore, Republicans don’t face that choice. They can do what the Democrats have down with Franken – retain the seat and retain their honor at the same time. Actually, in this case, the Republicans would have to reclaim that honor after forfeiting it by cynically backing Moore in order to keep their majority. But if they want to keep that majority in the wake of an inevitable backlash to excusing the allegations against their Alabama candidate, they may accidentally do the right thing.

(Image of Al Franken’s resignation speech on the Senate floor via screenshot)

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