How low will the GOP go?

Roy Moore, a religious zealot running for a US Senate seat out of Alabama, has been credibly accused of pursuing and preying on teenage girls when he was in his 30s. One was just 14 years old when, she alleges, Moore — stripped to his underpants — touched her intimately and tried to get her to touch his genitals. Moore denies the allegations.

And in one of the more shocking and disgusting moves in a year marked by shocking and disgusting politics, the Republican Party is supporting him. After weeks of Republicans — like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Moore was not fit to serve — denouncing and distancing from Roy Moore, the Republican National Committee has suddenly changed its mind. It will open its coffers to Alabama’s GOP apparatus in hopes of getting Moore elected next week, party officials said.

There is further context for disgust here. When the stories broke about Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual harassment and assault, Republicans, like everybody else, denounced him — and then pounced at the political opportunity.

They demanded Democrats return any donations Weinstein had given them, and that Democrats also swiftly, strongly and publicly renounce him. That Hillary Clinton, who is not in any position of elected or appointed power and is not running for anything, took a few days to make a statement was nearly round-the-clock Fox News and Outrage Twitter fodder.

Even though Weinstein wasn’t an elected official (like Moore) or someone endorsed by Democrats (as Moore is by Donald Trump and other Republicans), and was just another rich guy whose money the party wanted, the GOP nonetheless tried its best to use the sexual abuse allegations to tar Democrats, publishing lists of Democrats who received Weinstein’s “dirty money” and hammering the point in blog posts and supporter emails.

Democrats did return Weinstein’s donations. John Conyers, a Democratic congressman accused of sexual harassment, is resigning (and has endorsed his son to replace him in Congress). Al Franken, also accused of harassment, has apologized and invited an investigation into his behavior.

Republicans have had no similar reckoning. While abuse, harassment and assault transcend party lines, the response to these accusations is starkly partisan. It turns out that the GOP didn’t care all that much about the principle — that assaulting women is wrong, and our elected officials shouldn’t support or give insider access to abusers — and was instead only looking to score political points.

That Republicans are willing to exploit rape, assault and harassment victims to bully their opponents is bad enough. But now they’re supporting an alleged pedophile, alleged pervert and alleged sexual assailant. All because they want an R next to the name of another senator.

It’s notable that Donald Trump, himself accused of harassment and assault by many women (allegations he denies), has led his party in supporting Moore: he endorsed him.

But Trump is a figurehead, not a king, and Republicans don’t have to follow his every whim. Some, including Jeff Flake and John McCain, are refusing to get behind Moore. But the organized party apparatus is now backing him. The party of “family values” and morals, so delicate they think bigoted bakers shouldn’t have to make wedding cakes for gay people, are endorsing a man who, by many accounts, would prowl malls and courthouses looking for teens to “date.”

This is a broken party. Trump is the largest and most obnoxious symbol of that, but GOP support of Moore shows that this isn’t about individual awful men. It’s about a toxic institution that has proven itself beyond redemption.

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