Yesterday Donald Trump tacitly endorsed Roy Moore, distancing himself from prominent Republicans who called upon the Alabama Senate candidate to withdraw from the race after several women accused him of behavior ranging from creepy to criminal. Responding to reporters' questions about Moore, Trump criticized Moore's opponent and repeatedly noted—no fewer than a dozen times—that Moore had denied any sexual improprieties. He left open the possibility that he might campaign for Moore.
"He denies it," Trump said. "Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You're talking about, he said 40 years ago this did not happen."
After a reporter noted that Trump also had been accused of sexual assault and asked him what his "message to women" is, the president reiterated that "Roy Moore denies it," adding, "That's all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it."
Asked if he believes Moore's denials, Trump repeated himself again. "Well, he denies," he said. "I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He's run eight races, and this has never comes up. So 40 years is a long time. The women are Trump voters; most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is, you have to do what you have to do. He totally denies it."
Trump was much less circumspect about Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. "We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat—Jones," he said. "I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime. It's terrible on the border. It's terrible on the military. I can tell you for a fact, we do not need somebody that's going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military, bad for the Second Amendment."
So will Trump campaign for Moore? "I'll be letting you know next week," he said. "But I can tell you, you don't need somebody who's soft on crime, like Jones."
Surely voters should be at least as concerned about electing an actual criminal, and that is what Roy Moore is if you believe the most serious allegations against him, which include sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl and forcible groping of a 16-year-old. Trump cannot dodge the gravity of those accusations by noting, over and over again, that Roy Moore denies them. On November 10, the day after The Washington Post published its story about the charges against Moore, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump "believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside." Apparently Trump also believes the corollary: that if Moore refuses to step aside, that means the allegations are not true.
That stance is reminiscent of Trump's reports about Vladimir Putin's response to evidence that the Russian government surreptitiously sought to influence voters in last fall's presidential election. I brought it up repeatedly, Trump says, and he denied it every time. Case closed.
Moore, like Putin, has a strong motive for lying, while the women accusing him do not (as Trump implicitly concedes when he notes that they do not seem to be politically motivated). I was never a fan of Moore, so maybe my impressions should be taken with a grain of salt. But his accusers seem credible to me, and I would say it is substantially more likely than not that they are telling the truth. That's not enough to convict Moore in a court of law, but it seems like a good reason not to vote for him, let alone campaign for him, even if you were otherwise inclined to do so.
Furthermore, contrary to what Trump said (three times), Moore's denials have been less than "total." He more or less admits that he dated teenagers when he was a local prosecutor in his 30s, and that in itself might be legitimately troubling to voters, insofar as it reflects on his judgment, his ethics, and the plausibility of the criminal allegations. In short, there are plenty of reasons for voters who like Moore's politics to have second thoughts about his character. But you have to do what you have to do.