Matthews: Comparing responses to two prominent GOP sex scandals

Matthews: Comparing responses to two prominent GOP sex scandals

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The Florida Republican Party recently voted to suspend its state party chairman, Christian Ziegler, based largely on a rape allegation against him. The executive committee also reduced his salary to $1 and demanded his resignation. In addition, there’s the accusation that he and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, a co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, previously had a threesome with the woman now alleging rape.  

The Florida Republican Party’s support for its chairman has understandably evaporated in the wake of a nasty and embarrassing sex scandal.  

By contrast, sex scandals and accusations of sexual misconduct have followed the putative head of the national Republican Party, Donald Trump, for decades. And it’s not just one woman; 19 have come forward with allegations ranging from the boorish to the criminal. Yet Trump’s popularity among Republicans has been and apparently remains unscathed by the scandals.  

Trump may have laid a glove on several women, but their allegations haven’t laid a glove on his popularity with Republicans — including Florida Republicans.   

Just consider the contradictions. According to The Hill, “In addition to [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Florida’s Republican House and Senate leaders have all called for Christian Ziegler’s resignation.”  

Politico quotes the Florida GOP vice chair, Evan Power, who explained the state GOP executive committee’s reasoning for ousting Ziegler: ‘“You can’t morally lead the Republican Party forward,’ given the allegations.”   

That’s a defensible position, given the GOP’s long-running efforts to oppose the growing sexualization of society, especially with respect to children, and the party’s public support for traditional moral values. While courts must uphold a presumption-of-innocence standard, organizations can and often do encourage their executives to step down, or force them out, when their actions become a distraction.   

But if the accusations mean Zeigler “can’t morally lead the [Florida] Republican Party forward,” how can Trump lead the national Republican Party forward?  

To be fair, it has been years or decades since some of the alleged Trump misconduct occurred. Some years ago, I asked then-Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) about his response to the multiple sex scandals swirling around Trump. He replied that when Trump allegedly did those things, he was still a Democrat.   

Gohmert’s response was funny, and it made the audience laugh. And it’s probably true. Yet reverberations from those earlier alleged actions are still part of the news cycle today.  

Take the case of adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump’s then-fixer and personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 in hush money in 2016 to keep quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump years earlier. Questions about the payments ultimately led to Trump being charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records with respect to reimbursements he paid to Cohen. Trump’s trial is set for March 25.  

While Trump has repeatedly denied he had the affair or knew about the payments, most people don’t believe his declarations of innocence.   

And then there is E. Jean Carroll. Last May a jury found Trump sexually abused Carroll in the mid-1990s and later defamed her when he denied the claims. The jury awarded her $5 million.   

And those two instances, Daniels and Carroll, don’t count the 17 other women who have alleged inappropriate actions by Trump.  

And then there’s this: Trump’s relationship with pedophile financier Jeffery Epstein. Few things can get a public figure in hotter water these days than having hung around with Epstein. Yet Trump did, at least until the relationship broke down.  

Business Insider quotes Jeffery Epstein’s brother, Mark, saying, “Jeffery said he stopped hanging out with Trump when he realized Trump was a crook.” But some Miami Herald journalists claim Trump banned Epstein from coming to Mar-a-Lago in 2007, after Epstein was allegedly harassing a 14-year-old girl.  

Trump’s one-time relationship with Epstein may or may not have amounted to anything that would cause the former president problems. All we know is the relationship hasn’t hurt Trump so far.  

For years, decades really, Republicans have called for a return to and support for traditional moral values. And there are people who have embraced the GOP because of it.

The Florida GOP’s response to allegations against Ziegler could be considered an example of that effort to take the moral high ground. But then how to explain many Republicans’ lack of interest in the more numerous, and in some cases more serious, allegations against Trump?  

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on X@MerrillMatthews.  

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