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Politics In The News

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here it is, another exercise in democracy. Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore says he is not leaving the race. And under state law, he could not get off the ballot this late if he tried. So Moore remains the Republican nominee in a December election against Democrat Doug Jones. Now, Roy Moore denies stories of multiple women who say he made advances on them when they were teenagers. The youngest says she was 14 at the time. Moore responded on "The Sean Hannity Show" on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

ROY MOORE: This never happened. They know it never happened. And obviously, you don't wait 40 years to bring up something like this.

INSKEEP: That remark brought responses from many women who say that in fact, women often do wait decades before revealing what happened to them, if they ever reveal it at all. Jonah Goldberg is following all of this. He's a senior editor at National Review. He's in our studios. Jonah, good morning.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what do you make, first, of conservatives who are standing by Roy Moore? And in fact, a good number of Alabama voters seem to be doing that.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I think you have to make some important distinctions. We at National Review, a conservative magazine, we've called for him to step down. Most of the conservative writers I know and respect have called for him to either just flat-out to step down or to - you know, if true, which I think is a bit of a weasel out kind of phrase. But Republicans - some Republicans have been less than a profile of courage. And in Alabama, something's in the water. I mean, it's a very strange situation where people are just - especially local GOP politicians - some are even saying even if the allegations are true, they wouldn't remove their endorsement. And that's just crazy talk to me.

INSKEEP: Why is it crazy talk? Lay it out for me.

GOLDBERG: (Laughter) Well, look, it's always...

INSKEEP: Apparently it needs to be argued, so go ahead.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. So normally, it's always good to know where the line is of acceptable behavior. And I just always thought that the line for acceptable behavior was a good deal shy of molesting 14-year-old girls - supplying them with alcohol and molesting 14-year-old girls. And so the even-if-true allegations are absolutely repugnant to me. For other people, they deny it. But you know, Roy Moore's own denials are weird. If I asked you if you killed a man in Reno and you response was - and you're a lawyer - well, that wasn't my customary behavior, that's sort of a non-denial denial.

INSKEEP: That kind of is - a Johnny Cash song also going through our heads there. So you referred to that as weasel words if there - this other group of Republicans who say if these allegations are true. You don't find that to be...

GOLDBERG: Well, it's weasel words if you don't ever say that about Harvey Weinstein stepping down, if you don't say that about Louis C.K. losing his TV show, if you don't say that about - if you didn't say that about, oh, I don't know, Bill Clinton. The Washington Post story strikes me as remarkably buttoned down. And Roy Moore is going around saying these women came forward after 40 years. No, The Washington Post went and put it to these women. And they didn't want to come forward. These women were brought out, which is a slightly different distinction. And you have Steve Bannon going around saying it's no coincidence that the Amazon Bezos Bildenberger (ph), whatever he calls it, Washington Post, is the one who brought the story forward because they're the ones who brought forward the Billy Bush story with Donald Trump. What Bannon leaves out is the fact that the Billy Bush story was true, you know? It was a tape of a candidate on - in his own words saying he did terrible things.

INSKEEP: So tell me about the ruthless political calculation here. There are a lot of Republicans who clearly were uncomfortable, to say the least, with Donald Trump as a presidential candidate but decided it was politically better to have Trump as president than to have Hillary Clinton as president. What calculation are Republicans making about Roy Moore? Are there Republicans who think that however repugnant he may be to them that he's better in the Senate than a Democrat?

GOLDBERG: Yes. I think that's bottom line. Part of it has to do with the incredibly narrow margin in the Senate where you only have a 52-seat majority and look at how much was stymied because of that low margin. Losing an easy-get Republican seat is too terrible to contemplate for a lot of people.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one other thing, Jonah Goldberg. President Trump had an eventful weekend as he continued traveling through Asia. And here's just one thing that he did, he met Russian President Vladimir Putin. He told reporters afterward, well, yeah, I asked him as I always do whether he meddled in the 2016 election, and he denied it, and I think he means it. Trump then later came out and clarified that Trump himself stands with the intelligence agencies, whatever exactly that means. And then Putin himself, or at least the Kremlin, said this never even came up in the meeting. What do you make of all that?

GOLDBERG: Monday.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: This is the weird world we've been in ever since they touched that orb in Saudi Arabia. And I do think it's been misreported a bit that Trump had said that he believes them. And then that's been cleaned up a little bit. But it does seem clear to me that Vladimir Putin knows how to get Trump's number; also seems clear to me that the Chinese know how to get Trump's number. And Trump can't get out of his sort of domestic politics head when it comes to this issue of collusion. And it probably would have been just best if he never brought it up at all if, in fact, maybe Putin's telling the truth. And if that's the case, then it's very strange that Trump had that conversation.

INSKEEP: Yeah. If Putin's telling the truth, then Trump lied.

GOLDBERG: Yes.

INSKEEP: If Putin lied, then Trump was saying that he believes, in a sense, the word of a liar, which is awkward either way.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, it's sort of an and third base with Abbott and Costello kind of thing.

INSKEEP: Jonah, always a pleasure.

GOLDBERG: Good to be here. Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Jonah Goldberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.