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Opinion

Did ideology trump morality in Tennessee GOP primary?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Republican Party,Tennessee,2014 Elections,Ashe Schow,Vance McAllister

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Republicans would disown politicians who embarrassed the party. Apparently that is no longer always the case.

Remember Chris Lee? Of course you don’t, he was the New York representative who resigned after e-mailing a shirtless photo to a woman he met on Craigslist just one month after the GOP took control of the House in 2011.

Remember Todd Akin? Of course you do, because that guy not only made his name synonymous with spouting stupid, election-crippling gaffes, but also because he won’t go away.

Or what about Richard Mourdock? You might remember him as the man who beat Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., in the 2010 primary, but you probably remember him as the other guy who said something controversial about rape.

In each of those cases the Republican Party all-but-abandoned the embarrassing politician: Lee resigned the same day his shirtless photo was discovered, Akin lost funding and was asked to step down by party leaders and Mourdock saw party leaders like Mitt Romney distance themselves from his remarks.

But apparently gone are the days when the Republican Party's worst actors are forced out by consensus.

Take Scott DesJarlais’ win in Tennessee Monday.

Despite sleeping with patients and coworkers and persuading his ex-wife to go through two abortions, the Republican physician won his primary. Now, he only won by about 38 votes and because his challenger, state Sen. Jim Tracy, conceded, but still, how was this election even close? (Side note: Read Tracy’s concession speech for a lesson in how to bow out gracefully and not look like a sore loser, a la Chris McDaniel.)

DesJarlais may have squeaked by thanks to his 100 percent rating from the pro-life group National Right to Life, which declined to make an official endorsement in the race. The organization has not responded to a Washington Examiner request for comment.

DesJarlais also received an endorsement from Tea Party Nation, whose president, Judson Phillips, told the Examiner in a phone call that he wasn’t sure anyone could have taken away their endorsement of DesJarlais.

“He’s continued to do an excellent job of representing his constituents,” Phillips said, adding that the alternative, Tracy, was an establishment candidate who would have backed Big Government policies.

Phillips also noted that all of the scandals surrounding DesJarlais happened about a decade before he was elected to Congress, a sentiment echoed by other Republicans in Tennessee.

“This is the Bible Belt,” Rutherford County Republican Party Chairwoman Christy Sanford told Politico. “There’s a lot of grace. DesJarlais has come out and taken responsibility.”

DesJarlais ran with that theme Monday, saying he was grateful for the support of his constituents.

“I want to thank the people of Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District for once again putting their faith in my ability to serve them; I promise I will never take that trust for granted,” DesJarlais said in a statement to supporters. “I am glad we can now come together as Republicans and start focusing on the general election in November.”

And DesJarlais isn’t the only Republican that doesn’t appear to be abandoned by the party for indiscretions. The “kissing congressman,” Rep. Vance McAllister of Louisiana, who was caught on camera in April making out with someone who was not his wife, is running for re-election and appears to be leading the polls.

Regardless of how these men perform in Congress, it will be impossible for any article to be written about them without mention of prior bad acts.

Note: Yes, I realize that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is still in Congress. My list is about politicians who have committed bad acts since the GOP wave in 2010 or who have had their bad acts discovered (as is the case with DesJarlais) since 2010.

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