WASHINGTON — President Trump broke with leading Republicans on Tuesday and voiced support for Roy S. Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama who has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers and has seen his campaign’s prospects imperiled.
In his first extensive remarks on the accusations that date back decades, the president cited the vigorous denials by Mr. Moore, who is facing off in a high-stakes special election against Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate.
Mr. Trump also said he was “very happy” that women in the United States are now coming forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against lawmakers and media figures, many of them Democrats.
Asked by a reporter about whether electing “a child molester” was better than electing a Democrat in the Alabama race, Mr. Trump responded by insisting that Mr. Moore denies the charges against him.
“He says it didn’t happen,” the president told reporters at the White House. “You have to listen to him, also.”
For the president, defending Mr. Moore is a politically fraught echo of his own campaign, in which multiple women accused Mr. Trump of sexual improprieties that he vigorously denied. Like Mr. Moore, the president insisted his accusers were liars and dismissed calls by members of his own party to abandon his campaign. His support of Mr. Moore has renewed attention on those past allegations.
Mr. Trump’s willingness to accept Mr. Moore’s denials underscored the growing Republican divide in Washington, where party officials have worried that their connections to Mr. Moore — a Breitbart News-backed candidate — would taint establishment candidates across the country. Senate Republicans said on Tuesday that they were bewildered by Mr. Trump’s weighing in on the Alabama race after he had remained quiet, and they said that the president had put them in a difficult position.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said last week that the accusations against Mr. Moore were credible, and called for him to abandon his campaign. Other senators have warned that Mr. Moore could be expelled if he were to be elected in the Dec. 12 vote.
But Mr. Trump set aside those concerns and suggested that a victory by Mr. Jones would jeopardize an agenda that the president’s administration was already struggling to advance. Referring to some of the issues that Alabama voters prize, Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Jones, a former federal prosecutor in Birmingham who is now leading Mr. Moore in some polls that were taken after the misconduct accusations surfaced nearly two weeks ago.
“We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on the military.”
The president suggested that the passage of time, and the fact that Mr. Moore’s accusers did not come forward earlier, should call into question the accusations. And he noted that Mr. Moore has been elected repeatedly by voters in Alabama.
“I do have to say, 40 years is a long time,” Mr. Trump said as he left for a five-day Thanksgiving vacation at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla. “He’s run eight races, and this has never come up. So 40 years is a long time.”
In a statement after Mr. Trump’s remarks, Mr. Jones’s campaign said, “Doug believes the women, and that the people of Alabama will hold Roy Moore accountable.”
Mr. Jones is scrambling to ensure that Alabamians do not forget the controversy. On Tuesday, his campaign repeatedly aired a new television ad featuring recent comments from Ivanka Trump, the president’s elder daughter, who said that she had “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” and that “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”
Until Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Trump had remained mostly quiet about the accusations against Mr. Moore. He had left it to his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to say that the president believed it was up to Alabama voters to decide the race to fill the seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general.
The White House, though, had begun signaling its worries about the policy consequences of a victory by Mr. Jones. Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, said on Monday on Fox News that Mr. Jones could not be counted on to support the tax changes that Mr. Trump is trying to push through Congress.
“Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don’t be fooled,” she said. “He will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime. Weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”
Asked whether that meant that the White House was urging a vote for Mr. Moore, Ms. Conway said, “I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”
Mr. Trump’s defense of Mr. Moore, who has been abandoned by nearly all of the Republican establishment in Washington, was seen as tantamount to an endorsement.
Mr. McConnell has called on Mr. Moore to step aside as a candidate, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee has severed ties with Mr. Moore, saying it would no longer raise money for his campaign.
Mr. Trump took a different stance on Tuesday, but he also signaled that his public support for Mr. Moore might not be without limits. He declined to say whether he would travel to Alabama to campaign for Mr. Moore before the special election. And the president did not explicitly urge voters to cast a ballot for Mr. Moore.
Mr. Trump’s most recent campaigning in Alabama, where he won 62 percent of the presidential vote last fall, fell surprisingly flat. In September, Alabama voters rejected Mr. Trump’s pleas and chose Mr. Moore over Senator Luther Strange, the White House’s preferred candidate, in the Republican primary.
Yet on Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s bottom-line position seemed to align with many of Alabama’s most influential Republicans. Gov. Kay Ivey has said that she both believes Mr. Moore’s accusers and that she intends to vote for him. And last week, the Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee opted to reaffirm the party’s support for Mr. Moore’s nomination.
Just one statewide Republican organization — the Young Republican Federation of Alabama — has publicly withdrawn its support for Mr. Moore, its steering committee saying in a resolution over the weekend that its “duty is not to the individual candidates but to the longstanding growth and sustainability of the Republican Party.” Senator Richard C. Shelby, the state’s ranking lawmaker, said he would not cast his ballot for Mr. Moore, who was, in effect, twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for defiance of federal judges.
In Alabama, Mr. Moore has spent decades amassing a pugnacious and unapologetically controversial record — his views on same-sex marriage and Islam, for instance, are regularly condemned as bigoted and intolerant — that is central to his appeal to many of the state’s voters. Around the time that Mr. Trump addressed reporters on Tuesday in Washington, Mr. Moore’s lieutenants were urging voters to look past the allegations that transformed the Senate race almost two weeks ago.
They again sought to undermine the credibility of some, but not all, of Mr. Moore’s accusers. But they reserved some of their fiercest attacks for the news media and Republican officials, like Mr. McConnell.
“If you can be tricked in two weeks about Judge Roy Moore, then they win,” said Dean Young, a close adviser to Mr. Moore and a failed candidate for Congress.
Mr. Young refused to take questions during his appearance outside the State Capitol in Montgomery. Instead, he vowed that the campaign would stop responding to questions about the allegations against Mr. Moore, and he depicted Mr. Jones as a liberal extremist.
And he appealed to Mr. Trump’s popularity.
“We want to send Judge Moore to Washington because Judge Moore will help President Trump get done what needs to get done,” Mr. Young said. “And all this ‘Jerry Springer’ stuff is over.”Continue reading the main story