Though Eric Cantor’s primary upset is considered the biggest surprise of the midterm election cycle, another race may come in a close second. I say “may” because the results have not been officially certified, but if things hold as is, Rep. Scott DesJarlais—currently with a 38-vote lead over his opponent—will win the Republican nomination and a chance to continue representing Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District.
So why is this potentially one of the political upsets of the year? Because according to political watchers, DesJarlais’ political future was D.O.A. thanks to revelations linking him to not just one, but numerous scandals that involved sex and stuck a knife right into the heart of the conservative’s family-values posture.
Democrats fought successfully to have DesJarlais’ divorce records unsealed—although a judge delayed the move until after Election Day in 2012. The documents painted a contradictory picture of a man who campaigned as a social conservative but behaved as anything but. According to the documents, DesJarlais supported his wife’s two abortions before their marriage—despite being vocally opposed to abortion in his political life. He also engaged in affairs, including with patients. (DesJarlais worked as a practicing physician before his election to Congress.) He pressured one woman to seek an abortion following their liaison. Yet despite his own extensive marital transgressions, he believes in preserving the sanctity of traditional marriage by opposing marriage rights for same-sex couples.
So why is DeJarlais ahead in a primary in a conservative district? Furthermore, why is he yet another in a long list of candidates whose personal behavior is at odds with their policies who ultimately win reelection? From Louisiana Senator David Vitter’s prostitution scandal to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s clandestine hike along the Appalachian Trail to Newt Gingrich’s multiple marriages, social conservatives are frequently given a pass for not being so conservative in their personal lives. But they are not alone. Much like Democrats shake their heads at conservative ambivalence towards the scandal-plagued hypocrites in the GOP, plenty of conservative women questioned how the same feminists who opposed Clarence Thomas due to sexual harassment allegations could support President Bill Clinton time and again.
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