Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie says the party would be risking "long term pain for ... short term gain" if Roy Moore defeats Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama's special election for the US Senate.
Gillespie, who was defeated earlier this year in his bid to become governor of Virginia, said that if he were an Alabama voter, he would not vote for Moore.
Gillespie tried to run for governor in Virginia without embracing Trump and also without turning off his voters
He said he wouldn't be able to vote for either Republican Roy Moore or Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama
Voters will choose Tuesday between Moore and Jones to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who resigned earlier this year to become attorney general.
The veteran GOP operative made his comments during a taping with David Axelrod for an episode of "The Axe Files," a podcast produced by University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
"If I were in Alabama I would not be able to bring myself to vote for Roy Moore," Gillespie said. "I couldn't vote for Doug Jones, but I wouldn't be able to bring myself to vote for (Moore)," he said, when asked about allegations of molestation and other controversies surrounding Moore.
Yet Gillespie said that the intense opposition that Moore's candidacy has drawn from outside the state would likely inflame the Republican base there.
In June, Gillespie won an unexpectedly close Virginia primary in June against Corey Stewart, a candidate who had more openly embraced President Donald Trump. During the hour-long conversation with Axelrod, he warned that there were "crosscurrents" that could trap elected Republicans against the base of their own party. Alabama voters may feel they "don't want folks telling us what we know who we can and cannot vote for. 'We'll make that decision ourselves,'" he said.
Gillespie also drew a parallel between the debate around supporters of Moore's candidacy and the core of voters who helped to elect President Trump, citing his own experience working to gain the support of the "Trump electorate" during his failed run for governor in Virginia. Gillespie said Trump's voters "feel like they're not just being disagreed with, but they are being disdained."
That tension dogged Gillespie in Virginia, where he said he found himself whipsawed between passionate supporters of Trump and the rest of the electorate. "If you're not standing up for President Trump, for his supporters, they see you as not for him," he said. "It's not that I was not for him. It's just that I'm not against him."
He compared to the task to walking on a tightrope that "may not be walkable."
When pressed on whether Trump contributed to his recent loss in Virginia, Gillespie said "I think that was a big factor."
He said the environment created by the bombastic President and the media has made it difficult to have temperate debates about the issues of the day.
"Now we're selling clicks and it has a very debilitating and I think cynical and corrosive effect on the ability to have an actual conversation about serious issues. And a lot of times the effect is just to try to shut down the conversation," he said.
Seared by a campaign in which he was buffeted by Trump and harsh media coverage of ads Gillespie ran that seemed calculated to seize on some of the divisive issues that had propelled the President to office, he took a long pause when asked if he would counsel others to run for office.
"I don't think I would," he said.