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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Candidates’ Family Problems Not Likely to Sway Voters

Democrats who expect a boost from the messy personal lives of GOP presidential candidates should think again, according to Ariel Sabar’s recent article in the Christian Science Monitor. Sabar’s case is mostly historical — with the exception of Gary Hart in 1988, there are no cases of Presidential candidates being undone by their failures as parents or spouses. Sabar points out that American voters were forgiving of adultery even back in the Victorian era, when Grover Cleveland admitted siring a child out of wedlock. Sabar cites the examples of Bill Clinton’s marital problems and Reagan’s status as the only divorced President, both of whom remained highly popular, and notes further:

In Pew Research Center polls this year, only 9 percent of Americans said a divorce would make them less likely to vote for a presidential candidate. The percentage who said they had “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” dropped over the past two decades from 87 percent to 76 percent.
…in the Pew polls, the biggest turnoffs in a presidential candidate – atheism and a lack of political experience – had little to do with their divorce count or the number of phone calls they get each week from their children. The most appealing traits were military service and Christian faith.

Most of the current speculation on the topic centers around the fallout of Rudy Guiliani’s divorce from his second wife, and his continuing status as a GOP front-runner. While his troubled marital history can’t help him, Sabar makes a convincing case that it’s unlikely to be the pivotal issue that turns many voters against him.

One comment on “GOP Candidates’ Family Problems Not Likely to Sway Voters

  1. Albert Whited on

    Here, perhaps, is the saddest commentary on the American electorate: that overwhelming majorities regard atheism as a most-disqualifying flaw and religiosity as a most-qualifying commendation.
    This is to say that Americans require their leader not only to espouse, but also to demonstrate a decision-making process essentially–by definition–irrational, what Kierkegaard called an absurd “leap of faith”. Such demonstrated irrationality, in fact, is a requirement for true adherence to any faith, whether of extreme or moderate stripe.
    Now of course, one of the oldest adages is “when in Rome, do as the Romans”; and none know this better than the politicians. One must genuflect before the idols for the sake of the form. But particularly in a secular state that maintains official neutrality among religions, the politician–as he always has–must do so with a wink and a nod. The 1st Amendment right to practice religion as one pleases is at stake, so the politician must maintain an official neutral stance, even if his values are influenced by his religious training–and even if he admits as much.
    Neverthless, the soundness of the secular state is threatened when infested by “true believers” masquerading as politicians, rather than the other way around. We have seen the devestating effect with some of the Bushies. We see the worry in military quarters with the Turkish parliament’s election yesterday of Gul. We worry about the influence of the ayatollahs in Iran.
    So, we should safeguard against such an infestation of the Democratic Party. As Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet illuminate in Mother Jones (Sep/Oct 2007), HRC holds hands weekly with mostly-GOP Christian ‘wingers at the Senate Prayer Breakfast and is a member of the shadowy Fellowship of Doug Coe. Many sources demonstrate a history of HRC’s knee-scraping religiosity, including her own statements and writings. The question Joyce and Sharlet ask: is this more Clintonian triangulation, a clever strategy for Senatorial achievement (ala those Romans), or is she really “down with” the theocratic aims of Coe, the Fellowship, and their congregants? The nod and wink have yet to come.


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