Nearly a thousand miles from Alabama, the intra-party debate inspired by Senate candidate Roy Moore rages on at Penn State.
Like their counterparts in the national GOP, conservative students disagree over the appropriate response to multiple sexual harassment allegations against Moore, especially after President Donald Trump endorsed him via Twitter on Monday.
As reported in The Washington Post, several women have accused Moore of pursuing romantic or sexual relationships when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s. Then-14-year-old Leigh Corfman told The Post Moore drove her to his home and stripped her clothes off, touching her over her underwear.
Friends and family members of the women confirm their accounts, while Moore’s former co-workers say he often visited shopping malls or high school sporting events, hoping to meet teenage girls.
However, Moore denies ever contacting the women named in the story, claiming he does not recall ever dating teenagers. Despite The Post’s reporting, Moore leads in the special election polling, with 71 percent of his supporters skeptical of the allegations.
With a narrow Republican majority in the Senate, Moore’s loss to Democrat Doug Jones could make accomplishing the conservative legislative agenda more difficult.
Following a discussion of the political stakes of the election and the positions taken by party leaders, the College Republicans executive board issued a statement on Nov. 12 urging Moore to end his candidacy.
“A man who would act like this towards anyone, especially children, and would later hide behind the Cross, is not deserving of the votes of the good people of Alabama, and the honor that comes with a seat in the United States Senate,” the board wrote.
According to College Republicans Treasurer Riley Compton , supporting Moore harms the character of the country and the GOP brand in the long term. He feels the board’s statement sends a message to the Penn State community and elected officials representing Penn State.
“Sexual harassment and misconduct are big issues on Penn State’s campus,” Compton (sophomore-economics and political science) said. “We wanted people to know that we stand with victims and we didn’t want people affiliated with the GOP to seem as if they were getting a pass.”
Moore continues to have supporters among members of College Republicans, including students also involved with Turning Point USA and the Bull Moose Party.
Vincent Cucchiara , communications director for the Bull Moose Party, views the allegations as unconfirmed at best.
While he would not elect a candidate guilty of sexual harassment, he opposes “trial in the court of public opinion,” given that Moore has not been convicted. He cites an inconsistency in a yearbook signature supposedly from Moore as reason to doubt the women.
“If there’s no firm evidence he did these things, and it’s his word versus the word of people who are likely coaxed quite heavily from Moore’s opposition, I don’t see a problem with electing him,” Cucchiara said.
Cucchiara said the special election exposes a divide between Republican politicians and their constituents, which he believes contributed to the backlash against Moore from his own party. Among conservatives at Penn State, he considers the College Republicans part of the establishment, more concerned with appeasing liberals than advancing conservatism.
“Why are they brought to light? That’s the important part,” Cucchiara said. “You see Republicans going after Roy Moore and that’s because they’re part of the establishment. Roy Moore is another wave on the shore, breaking down the entrenched interests keeping the American people from holding their government accountable.”
However, Compton said the board’s decision to denounce Moore helps hold the government accountable after a wave of sexual harassment allegations against current congressmen.
“Most people are not being held accountable for their actions,” Compton said. “There’s certainly less accountability than in the private sector, where we see markets working. We hope to set an example for when it’s a local figure or organization accused.”
Sarah Nahrgang , a member of all three conservative organizations on campus, agrees with Cucchiara’s comments about the truth and timing of the allegations. According to Nahrgang (senior-secondary education), policy matters comes first when it comes to electing candidates.
She believes Moore would stand for conservative positions on immigration, taxation and gun rights — three issues important to her. If more “concrete” evidence of the allegations appears, she would want the Senate to reject him, but the allegations alone have no bearing on her support for Moore.
“Character judgments are important to an extent, but not to the extent that people make them out to be, and these allegations have no impact on policy,” Nahrgang said. “I want a politician to make good policy that allows me to be a good and productive citizen.”