Much has already been written about the dangers Roy Moore—Alabama’s infamous “10 Commandments judge”—could pose if he wins the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. But given Moore’s swift primary dispatching of incumbent (and Trump-endorsed) Sen. Luther Strange, and the fact that Alabama hasn’t sent a Democrat to Washington since 1992, the moment is ripe to unpack the way Moore’s Christian dominionist tendencies may play out as he joins an increasingly fractured Republican caucus in D.C.
Moore’s flawed theology—and the fact that his underlying philosophy of law dictates that only God and the Bible have any moral authority—are indeed dangerous. But for all his infamy, the “lawless theocratic lunatic” has been remarkably consistent throughout his political career.
While his repeated defiance of federal court orders garnered headlines nationwide, it has also allowed him to position himself as an important defender of so-called “traditional Christian values,” thereby fulfilling the divine duties of the “lower civil magistrate” who is called to address the corruption of high-ranking public officials. So while the speculations about the dominionist direction a Sen. Moore would likely try to take the GOP in are accurate, Political Research Associates fellow Frederick Clarkson has a different prediction for Moore’s time in Washington: “He’s not there to reform the Senate. He’s there to undermine it.”
That may sound like it harkens back to the Tea Party takeover of 2010, and indeed, Moore’s primary victory (and his likely victory in December’s special election) exists in that tradition. But crucially, Clarkson notes that Moore, unlike many of those Tea Party firebrands still serving in Congress, won’t be restrained by the specter of future campaigns. Moore is 71 years old, has already won statewide office twice (with a failed gubernatorial campaign in the middle), and is running as a far-right Republican with unparalleled name recognition in his deep-red home state.
The real possibility that Moore could win a second term in the Senate would likely amount to a lifelong appointment. His Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, is a former federal prosecutor with notable accomplishments to his name, including convicting the white supremacists who bombed a Birmingham church in 1963, but he has never run a political campaign and the national arm of the Democratic party has largely left its red-state candidates to fend for themselves since 2008.
Even if he only serves one term in the Senate and then retires, Moore is an expert at using his position of power to make a point. Moore has literally dedicated his career to “standing in the gap,” imposing himself on behalf of “God’s law,” and positioning himself as a humble “civil servant standing against the creeping anti-Christian tide,” Clarkson explained. Even if Moore’s principled stands are ultimately defeated, he holds himself out as a pinnacle of how “good Christian government officials” should behave.
Finding a member of Congress whose views or experience are analogous to Moore’s is tricky, but Texas Sen. Ted Cruz likely comes closest to providing that example—especially during the Senator’s freshman term, when the Tea Party-backed legislator reveled in publicity-grabbing stunts like his infamous Green Eggs and Ham filibuster over the Affordable Care Act. But Cruz, who became a Senator at age 43, has had to temper his anti-establishmentarianism, and his right-wing religious fervor, as he has pursued greater influence and higher public office. As is often the case, Cruz’s ambition has tempered his partisanship (to an extent).
“He’s not tempered by the political realities of ambition,” Clarkson said of Moore. “He doesn’t deviate, and he doesn’t shy away from his beliefs and the controversies that go with them. It’s not that he’s entirely impolitic—he’s very wily, but in a strangely principled way. If you put that consistency together with his nothing-to-lose-edness, that’s a powerful combination.”
Of course, this anti-establishment approach to one’s own political party is nothing new to the GOP. Affinity for the “political outsider” played a not-insignificant role in delivering the White House to a shady real estate magnate who’d never held public office. Indeed, as Vox noted, Moore’s election can be seen as a victory for Trumpism, though not for the president himself, who endorsed Moore’s opponent. But where Trump lacks any consistent ethical doctrine or religious adherence, Moore has been remarkably consistent in his passionately articulated Biblical world-view. And that’s what we should expect to see when Moore goes to Washington, Clarkson argues.
It’s also worth noting that, as a Senator, Moore will not be bound by the same level of ethical scrutiny that ultimately prompted his removal from Alabama’s Supreme Court—twice. While there is a clear hierarchy and code of judicial ethics for state and federal judges, no such restrictions are placed on Senators. It’s exceedingly rare (though not unheard of) for a Senator to be removed from office by colleagues for some kind of ethical or procedural breach. This reality only adds to the motivation for Moore to stick with the schtick that got him elected, and which demonstrably appeals to a broad segment of his electorate.
Part of that schtick—which includes a penchant for sermonic lectures and theatrical displays of gun-toting patriotism—is anchored in a deep distrust of establishment politics and its presumably corrupt enforcers.
“Moore’s not in favor of the Republican or the Trump agenda in many of its particulars,” said Clarkson. “He opposes the border wall; he’s in favor of using federal troops to stop illegal immigration. He’s a different guy; he’s not a go-along to get-along kind of guy.”
In that regard, Moore is likely to find willing allies in the far-right wing of the Republican caucus, including the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee. (The latter two senators, of course, introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which sought to elevate those who espouse conservative Christian views on sexuality and gender to a federally protected class—a goal that seems to track with Moore’s own Reconstructionist tendencies.) But the precise makeup of the Senate for the bulk of Moore’s term is still undetermined—and regardless, Democrats face a Sisyphean battle when it comes to turning the Senate blue in 2018.
Like many of the bills introduced by Sens. Cruz, Paul, and Lee, legislation authored or sponsored by Moore is likely to lean symbolic—intended to stage a debate and advance a conversation. Clarkson has previously written that Moore knew his defiant actions—whether in placing a 2.6-ton Ten Commandments statue inside a state courthouse or instructing probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—would ultimately be overruled. But his insistence that he was on sound moral—and therefore legal—ground did indeed spark nationwide conversations about the very issues at the center of Moore’s Biblical world-view: questions of marriage, faith, and “natural law.”
If Moore could accomplish all that without setting foot outside of Alabama, just imagine the trouble he’ll be able to stir up in Washington, D.C., where he’ll join the unofficial-but-growing Congressional “dominionist caucus,” which includes the Vice President. And if he finds himself sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee (which would be the most appropriate committee for a new lawmaker of Moore’s experience), even fellow Republicans should be prepared to hew to Moore’s world-view, or suffer the consequences.
Because, as Clarkson explained: “Roy Moore will never stop.”