(CN) – At a rally Tuesday night in Fairhope, Ala., former White House strategist Steve Bannon used Roy Moore’s military experience to defend the Senate candidate’s character and attack fellow Republicans criticizing him for accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls decades ago.
Standing before an American flag twice as tall as a person, Bannon said Moore demonstrated honor and integrity when he served “his country, his state and his family” by graduating from the U.S. Military Academy and working as company commander of a military police unit during the Vietnam War.
On Monday, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney urged the GOP to abandon Moore because of the women who have came forward to accuse the former judge of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers.
At least seven women have come forward, including Leigh Corfman, who claims Moore made inappropriate advances and had sexual contact with her when she was 14. Corfman said Moore touched her over her underwear and tried to get her to touch him in 1979. Moore has denied any wrongdoing.
“Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation,” Romney wrote on Twitter. “Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”
But on Tuesday night, Bannon faulted Romney for never serving in the military.
Addressing the prominent member of the Mormon Church from the stage, Bannon said, “You avoided service, brother. … You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice patties in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity.”
Bannon’s attack on Romney drew a separation between devotion to God and devotion to country. While missionary service is not a requirement in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all young men are encouraged to go into what is considered as a priesthood duty. Men who are single spend two years in the mission field. Mormon missionaries do not know beforehand where they will go in the world, nor do they have a say.
Moore, meanwhile, has become a darling of the religious right ever since he defied orders to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse while he sat as chief justice on Alabama’s Supreme Court, which resulted in his first removal from that office in 2003. He was removed again in 2016 for telling the state’s probate judges to defy federal orders on same-sex marriage.
Moore told the crowd at Tuesday’s right, “It’s God who’s given us our rights. If government gives our rights, it’ll take them from us. We’ve got to go back to recognition of God.”
The comments on religion and military service come as the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions enters its final week.
The Dec. 12 election will affect the delicate balance in the Senate, which has a narrow majority of 52 Republican senators. A win by Democratic candidate Doug Jones over Moore would claw back the control the Republican Party has over Congress.
Despite the allegations of sexual misconduct, Moore currently leads Jones by 2.3 points in the polls, according to RealClearPolitics. In recent days, Moore has netted the endorsement of President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee began funding him again.
The Moore campaign released a 30-second video on its Facebook page Tuesday that said Moore “believes in peace through strength” and supports the purchase of more warplanes, ships and missile defense systems for America’s military.
Defense spending is a key source of revenue for Alabama. The largest employer in the state is Redstone Arsenal, which heads the nation’s missile and rocket program. Other top employers include Anniston Army Depot and L-3 Army Fleet Support.
During his rally speech, Moore cited his time in the military to voice his support for a ban on transgender Americans from serving the country.
“If I’m in a fox hole, I don’t want to know whether this guy next to me is wondering if he’s a woman or a man or flip back and forth,” Moore said. “That’s not a military. We need a strong military and it’s going to affect the people of this country.”
The day before, Moore told conservative One America News Network if he wanted voters to know one thing about him, it is his military service.
“I think they should vote for me for my military experience,” he said. “My opponent does not have military experience.”
Hours before Moore’s rally, Jones leveled his own barbs at the former judge.
“I damn sure believe that I have done my part to ensure that men who hurt little girls should go to jail, and not the United States Senate,” Jones said at a speech in Birmingham.
Jones said the proudest moment of his career was when he worked as U.S. attorney for the North District of Alabama and prosecuted two members of the Ku Klux Klan who involved in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four girls and wounded 20 more people.