Senate Republicans just can't win. But, on at least one count, the left's nit-picking of their language is downright dangerous.
Roy Moore is the newest anchor dragging on the GOP's quest to cut taxes and repeal Obamacare. Moore's campaign in deep-red Alabama is in chaos after two women say the Republican Senate candidate initiated sexual contact with them when they were underage. At a Monday news conference, one of Moore's accusers alleged that, in the late 1970s, Moore offered her a ride home from her part-time job. Instead, Moore drove her to an unlit parking lot, groped her, grabbed her around the throat and attempted to force her onto his "crotch," she said.
The allegations against Moore, first reported by The Washington Post, are convincing. And the obvious hypocrisy of Moore's alleged behavior contrasted with his history wielding his zealot-like morality over others while leading Alabama's Supreme Court should end his campaign.
All the evidence suggests that Moore should never set foot on Capitol Hill.
Moore is, by these accounts, a sexual predator -- allegedly.
See what we did there?
Moore has not been, and will probably never be, convicted of the sexual assaults or statutory rapes of which he's accused. By that legal measure, Moore is technically innocent, even if the details disqualify him from holding office. And that's precisely why a slew of Senate Republicans -- including Iowa's Joni Ernst -- have qualified their calls for Moore's exit from the race with "if it's true."
Ernst and her peers are getting blasted for those three simple words. "Victim shaming," scream those on the left who care only about shutting down an argument.
Such criticisms of the rhetorical wiggle room senators want are more than political bullets aimed at the opposition. They're a dangerous attack on the judicial process.
Go ahead, read a crime story in today's Quad-City Times. Chances are that you'll see phrases such as "allegedly" and "police said." In a practical sense, they're approaches similar to the much maligned phrase "if it's true" and employed every day by journalists, attorneys and lawmakers.
The goal is to never label someone guilty until proven in court. In a legal sense, the accused is, and always must be, presumed innocent.
So, by tapping statements like "if it's true," Republican senators are avoiding outright accusations of guilt that are unlikely to ever be upheld by a jury. Moore continues to deny the mounting allegations. Things would be different if he admitted that what's being said about him were true. Instead, the right-wing firebrand had the gall to fundraise off of the scandal, because the "forces of evil" are out to get him or some such absurdity.
Even the strongest calls for Moore's exit, from the likes of Sen. John McCain, simply said Moore should drop out. They did not, nor should they, state unequivocally that Moore is guilty. It's a rhetorical and legal maxim that protects the right of all accused while also avoiding legal jeopardy for those making the statement.
Neither McCain nor Ernst should be flirting with slander. If only Democrats enjoyed such appropriate caution from Republicans.
It appears as if Roy Moore is a predator, a man who lured underage women into dark places and, in some cases, plied them with booze before making a pass at them. According to one account, he threatened the child when she rebuffed his handsy advances.
One can concurrently believe Moore's accusers and consider him a detestable hypocrite while remaining aware of the basic legal standards of guilt.
And that's precisely why so many Senate Republicans are qualifying their statements with "if it's true." It's an acknowledgment that the stories are likely true. The following calls for his exit reiterate their confidences in the accusers' accounts and willingness to listen.
What isn't reasonable is the left's demands for Senate Republicans to declare Moore's guilt. That's a dangerous precedent that would extend far beyond Moore, Alabama or a single campaign.