On Thursday, embattled Minnesota Senator Al Franken took to the Senate floor to address his political future. In his speech, he refused to take responsibility for any of the sexual misconduct allegations placed against him by multiple female accusers over the past few weeks, claiming that some were untrue and that others he remembered quite differently. Still, he announced his intention to resign from office “in the coming weeks.”
“It’s become clear that I can’t both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for [his constituents],” he explained.
Franken’s announcement came after the emergence of a seventh accuser (a former congressional aide) and coordinated pressure from notable Democratic party leaders (including over 30 fellow senators) for him to step down.
The senator didn’t leave the stage without taking a shot at his Republican opponents.
“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” he said, referring respectively to President Trump and Republican Senate candidate, Roy Moore from Alabama.
There’s been a fair amount of speculation as to what Franken meant, in saying that his resignation would be carried out over the span of “weeks.” Some have theorized that the senator is waiting for the results of Alabama’s special election, where state polls show that Moore will likely win. The notion is that if Moore is accepted into the U.S. Senate, Franken would have a stronger personal argument for recanting his resignation and staying in office. His case would be that what Moore is being accused of (sexual assault on a 14 year-old and another teenage girl) is significantly more serious than what Franken has been accused of (groping during photographs, and forced kisses).
Again, this is just a theory by some commentators. Franken hasn’t indicated that he’s planning on doing this.
But if we’re going to entertain offbeat scenarios in which Franken could conceivably hold on to his job, it seems to me that there’s a one that would have a better chance of succeeding: Franken switching parties to become a Republican.
I know, I know. It sounds ridiculous. But hey, much stranger things have happened in the world of politics over the past few years. So purely for the sake of argument, let’s examine this a bit:
While the accusations against Roy Moore are indeed more serious than those against Franken, Moore has the support of not only the Republican National Committee, but also the leader of the Republican party — President Donald J. Trump.
Additionally, a number of influential media-conservatives have been publicly defending Franken, framing calls from his Democratic colleagues for him to resign as unfair and purely political.
On her Fox News show, Laura Ingraham gave no credit to the Democrats for throwing Frankin overboard. Instead, she scolded them for engaging in “desperate political warfare.” She blasted the notion that the party cared about women, and declared that the Democrats’ master plan was to sacrifice Franken in order to give them a better moral standing from which to more effectively attack Trump and Moore for their problems with sexual misconduct.
“So I’ll tell you this tonight, be weary of the lynch mob you join today,” Ingraham added. “Because tomorrow, it could be coming for your husband, your brother, your son, and yes, even your president.”
If I’m understanding her correctly, Ingraham (who hasn’t challenged the accusations against Franken) is saying that if members of your family grope or force kisses upon seven non-consenting women, they may lose their jobs.
Ingraham’s guest, Newt Gingrich, was also upset by what the Democrats did.
“What you saw today was a lynch mob,” said Gingrich. “Let’s not have due process. Let’s not ask anybody any questions. Let’s not have any chance to have a hearing. Let’s just lynch him, because when we get done lynching him, we’ll be so pure.” He added that the Democratic Party is “losing its mind.”
Gingrich went on to actually rationalize Franken’s alleged incidents of forced kissing by making the point that they had occurred prior to him becoming a politician: “Al Franken was a comedian. Comedians often do weird things. He was in the entertainment business. He was doing the kind of things people in the entertainment business do.”
This may not have been the best argument to make in the post-Weinstein era. Anyway, Gingrich wasn’t done. He later went on Twitter and added these bullet points:
- Franken 1,053,205 Minnesotans picked him for senate in 2014
- 30 self appointed ‘pure’ senators want him out
- What happened to popular vote?
In fact, his logic is very similar to that being used by others on the Right to defend Roy Moore. They believe voters should be the sole deciders of Moore’s fate (regardless of who’s accusing him of what), and that party leaders should silence their objections and support his candidacy for the sake of numbers in the U.S. Senate.
So in theory, these righties would be willing to go to bat for Franken too, right? After all, if he switched parties, he’d add another Senate seat for the GOP, which apparently trumps just about everything right now.
Of course, many Moore supporters would put forth the distinction that despite Franken’s denials, there is one piece of proof of his sexual misconduct — something that goes beyond just he-said/she-said accusations: that photo of him possibly touching Leeann Tweeden’s breasts as she slept on a flight back from a USO tour to Afghanistan. Whether or not Franken’s actually touching her (or is just very close) is hard to tell. At minimum, what he did is highly inappropriate… Kind of like a guy in his thirties feverishly pursuing teenage girls.
So yeah, Franken might just be a GOP rock-star if he plays his cards right.
Only, that’s not going to happen…for a myriad of reasons that include ideology, logistics, and constituencies. To my friends on the Right who may have been hyperventilating while reading my points above, rest assured that this column was not about a plausible scenario, but rather an exercise in intellectual consistency (and inconsistency).
The truth is that there was indeed a political element in the Democrats’ decision to turn on Franken. And in this case, that’s a very good thing.
If we weren’t smack dab in the middle of a sea-change moment in American culture — when powerful men are being exposed in large numbers for their sexual misconduct against women — no one would be calling on Franken to resign. That picture of him wouldn’t have went public. Accusers wouldn’t have come forward (not now anyway). But because this reckoning is taking place, our culture has suddenly become more understanding of the issue, and much less tolerant of these disgraceful acts.
It took a while for the Democrats to get this, as was evidenced by Nancy Pelosi’s initial defense of John Conyers’ alleged actions by calling him an “icon.” Much more notably, the party ran interference for Bill Clinton (and his legacy of sexual impropriety) for decades, so their history on this topic is absolutely atrocious.
However, the Democrats seem to have finally figured out that people like Franken are a political liability. And if he didn’t go, voters in the broader electorate would make their party pay a price.
Again, this is a good thing. Politicians should fear their constituents. We’re their bosses, not the other way around.
Republicans are taking a bit longer to get this. While GOPers in Alabama may be willing to give Roy Moore a pass, the national electorate won’t be so charitable. Right now, the country is watching as a Republican president vocally supports a credibly accused sexual assailant of teenage girls. Voters are hearing how the RNC is funding Moore’s campaign, and they’re watching media-conservatives attack Moore’s accusers while making excuses for obscene behavior in order to better defend Moore.
The GOP is supposed to be the party of family values and moral clarity, but Republicans are loudly and enthusiastically ceding ground to the Democrats on a moral issue that should transcend politics. And if the Democrats take advantage of the situation (as politicians have been known to do), the Republicans would only have themselves to blame.
For the GOP, this is more than just a political mistake. This is cultural and societal mistake. And if Roy Moore wins his race (which he likely will), the party is going to be made to answer for that mistake in a big way.