Last week, Montana State Auditor and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Matt Rosendale doubled down on his endorsement of Alabamian and fellow Senate candidate Roy Moore. As of press time, this endorsement does not appear to have swung the election. Perhaps it made a difference; maybe Moore would have lost by a wider margin had he merely been an accused pedophile and not an accused pedophile endorsed by Montana’s state auditor. Since Tuesday night, however, we can add “non-predictive” to “morally questionable” and “tactically dubious” on our list of descriptors of Rosendale’s endorsement.
Eight women accused Moore of making sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties. One was 14 at the time of the alleged incident. These allegations come from multiple sources and are backed by substantial evidence reported in major newspapers, including the Washington Post. But Rosendale doesn’t believe them.
“You are innocent until proven guilty,” he told Jon Arneson on the Voices of Montana radio show last week. “And if folks have come forward—whether it is Judge Roy Moore or whether it is anyone else—and they have evidence to convict someone of a crime, then they should go through the legal process and do so.”
It’s a curious position that admits no middle ground between seeing a man convicted of a crime and endorsing him for Senate. We’re not talking about whether Roy Moore should go to jail. We’re talking about whether he should join the world’s greatest deliberative body. Surely Rosendale’s sense of character is more nuanced than “endorsed until proven guilty.”
His policy is especially convenient in this case, since Moore cannot be convicted in a court of law. Although Alabama abolished its statute of limitations on sex crimes committed against victims under the age of 16, the new law only applies to crimes committed after 1985. Moore’s accusers say he assaulted them between 1977 and 1980. It’s plausible that Rosendale is unaware of this aspect of Alabama code—although it has featured prominently in news reports—but the fact remains that he is withholding judgment until the impossible happens. There is literally no circumstance in which he wouldn’t endorse Moore.
Eight women, dozens of corroborating sources, and the newspaper that broke Watergate say Moore preyed on young girls, but Rosendale maintains a healthy skepticism. Maybe he doesn’t think Nixon did it either, since he never went to trial. All this makes for questionable epistemology, but it is even more dubious as politics. On first blush, it is hard to say whom Rosendale is trying to impress with these statements.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, apparently less of a stickler for due process, withdrew its support for Moore shortly after the allegations came out. So did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As someone who hopes to join the Senate as a Republican, Rosendale might reasonably court these people’s favor. Instead, he hitched his star to another candidate in Alabama—a man who was twice removed from that state’s supreme court for ethics violations, and whose own party regards him as a sex offender.
What was his calculus? Did he believe it would all pay off when Moore won and… funded Rosendale’s campaign? Did he expect Moore to somehow become Senate majority leader and, in gratitude, appoint him to an influential committee?
Rosendale’s statements on this issue suggest that he does not know which side his bread is buttered on, if he is even prepared to believe in the existence of bread and butter without a jury trial. His position seems dumb intellectually, dumb politically and, in retrospect, dumb as a prediction. But I do not think the Montana state auditor is dumb.
Though it’s true that he convincingly faked it on the radio. In the same interview, he praised Moore’s record of service in a way that suggested he was not aware of the judge’s ethics violations. Yet Rosendale’s belligerently counterintuitive take on this issue sent a message: This man will support the Republican in the race no matter what.
In the Midwest, we used to call such voters yellow-dog Democrats: people who would vote for a yellow dog if it appeared on the ballot with a (D) next to its name. Tuesday’s result suggests that Alabama contains a substantial minority of mall-pervert Republicans. Rosendale made it clear that if he could vote in Alabama, he would have been among them.
He is a party man, less interested in the content of government than in making sure his side wins control of it. All his friends are jumping off a bridge, and by God, he will line up along the rail. Maybe that’s mainly stupidity, but I think we should take it as strategy. Rosendale sent a message to the Republican voters of Montana last week, telling them who he is and what he is willing to do. Even without a trial, I think we ought to believe him.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture, and how you can’t really prove anything at combatblog.net.