Why do Republicans vote for bad candidates?

USA Today has identified “at least nine candidates, mostly Republican men, running for Congress or governor who have been stung with of a range of accusations … from sexual harassment to stalking and domestic abuse.” (Read story here.)

Republican voters for the most part don’t seem to care, although there have been a few exceptions, usually for foot-in-mouth derelictions. For example, in 2012, GOP Rep. Todd Akin lost a Senate race in Missouri to incumbent Democratic Sen. Clair McCaskill (who would lose to a Republican in 2018) after he claimed women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because their bodies “shut down” (details here).

And last week a GOP candidate for Michigan’s legislature lost in a district that has never before gone Democratic after he said his daughters should “enjoy it” if they were raped (story here).

So apparently even Republican voters have limits. But not many. They voted for Trump, who is a liar, cheater, draft dodger, tax evader, adulterer, bankrupt, racist, bigot, misogynist, and anything but Christian.

Some may have held their nose, but decided putting their party in power was more important. And for the countless GOP electeds and wannabes who fell in line behind Trump and his election lies, it was about not losing votes by alienating the base.

Professor Mirya Homan of Tulane University says “signals from leadership help shape how partisan voters view the significance” of allegations against candidates. When Trump, who remains a god to many Republican voters, endorses a flawed candidate with character issues, that “sends a signal to Republican voters that it’s something that doesn’t matter to the party.” Or to them.

She also points out that “the perceptions of even what sexual harassment is and also perceptions of sexism, and what that entails, vary by ideology and party.” (Which is one of the reasons why decent, civilized people reject Republican ideology when it tends to be racist and sexist.)

USA Today notes, “Polling suggests large swaths of American voters do care about such accusations … against political candidates” and pointed to a survey last month that “found 75% of registered voters [said] it would be a ‘major problem’ for them to support a candidate accused of sexual misconduct or abuse.” We’ll see, and we’ll have a chance to find out, given the plethora of Republican candidates who will be under a cloud in this fall’s elections.

How do these people make it this far in politics? I think the answer is Republicans are in a place where they care only about power. They’ve convinced themselves they’re a persecuted minority, and a strong feeling of victimhood runs through much of what they say and do. It’s true they’re a minority of the American population, which isn’t surprising given their extremism, and it’s also true they’re unpopular, but they’ve earned it.

Democrats are different. They’ve unceremoniously dumped candidates and even prominent office holders who committed sexual harassment. That list includes former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, former Minnesota senator Al Franken, former Washington governor Mike Lowry, and former Washington senator Brock Adams, all of whom were forced from office by sexual misconduct scandals. Republicans are more lax about that, and their culture tends to encourage or at least not discourage such behavior.

Should it matter? and does it matter? are two different questions. I think it should matter, not just for pragmatic reasons, but on principle. I have refused to vote for candidates of dodgy character (for example, I didn’t for Bill Clinton in either of his elections). It’s also important that we elect leaders who are competent, know what they’re doing, and make good decisions. Right now, unfortunately, we’re confronted with even higher priorities: Electing people who respect, and will preserve, our democracy and the rule of law. On that score alone, Republicans aren’t electable right now.

But it also doesn’t help that they’re serving up candidates to voters with the track records of these nine culprits, and others like them. And then you also have candidates detached from reality like this guy. But for all that, I don’t expect to see GOP voters abandon their party’s bad candidates. The tribal nature of today’s politics makes winning more important to them than their candidates’ lack of character.

That factor, though, could sway swing voters and tip close races to the Democrats; so it’s just possible that bad candidates could cost the GOP a Senate majority and possibly a couple of statehouses. If so, they threw it away, and it’ll be their own fault; but they’ll surely blame someone else.

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