Yesterday TLC pulled “19 Kids and Counting,” a television series about the famous Duggar family, after it was revealed that Josh Duggar may have molested a number of minors, including some members of his own family. Josh Duggar issued an apology after TMZ broke original story, saying he “acted inexcusably.” While the main concern is certainly for the victims, the story does have potential political ramifications. Before the allegations were made public Josh Duggar served on the politically active Family Research Council, known for the advocacy on conservative issues such as gay marriage bans. Josh Duggar’s picture has since emerged with Republican presidential candidates Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR).
As the Washington Post puts it, “Until Thursday, Josh Duggar was a popular man in the Republican Party.” However, many times American voters are willing to see past guilt by association as long as the candidate is willing to distance themselves from the controversial figure.
In 2008 many believed that then-candidate Obama would be doomed by his association with Bill Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Ayers admitted to being part of a group that conducted bombing of public buildings in protest of the Vietnam War, and Wright conducted fiery sermons condemning U.S. policy so strongly that at one point he shouted “God damn America!” from the pulpit. There were photos of Obama released with both men, and the connection between Obama and these men were well documented in the press.
In response, Obama made clear that he condemned Ayers past actions, and said he no longer had a close relationship with Ayers. After originally supporting Wright, the Obama’s wrote a letter announcing they were quitting Wright’s church when the reverend made more controversial statements in public. President Obama personally said he was “outraged” and “saddened” by Wright’s comments.
The Ayers and Wright stories were front page stories at one point, but on election day people were willing to see past these associations between Obama and the controversial figures, and accept the claim that Obama had distanced himself from the men. Eventually Americans voted on issues that mattered more to them such as the economy, national security, and health care. In 2008, reeling from the financial crisis, voters were more concerned about their job then what some friend of Obama had said or done years or even decades ago.
So while the Duggar story is big news right now, it likely has little lasting impact as long as the candidates in question are willing to distance themselves from Josh Duggar.
So far most of the Repubican presidential candidates have been relatively silent on the story. Campaign managers are undoubtedly trying to shield their candidates from press questions on the subject. The one candidate who has made some comments is Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), who had perhaps the closest relationship with the Duggars before the controversy.
In a Facebook post Huckabee essentially stood by Josh Duggar. Huckabee said that he agreed with Josh Duggar that his actions were “inexcusable” but Huckabee went on to say that Duggar’s actions are not “unforgiveable.” In his post Huckabee actually spends more time condemning the “blood thirsty” media for daring to break the story.
Some may see Huckabee’s Duggar comments as a bit of a double standard. Huckabee has certainly been less forgiving of others. Huckabee has been very harsh in his criticism of the Obama’s, at one point questioning First Lady Michelle Obama’s parenting skills. Huckabee condemned Beyonce for her allegedly “unwholesome” influence on young American girls, but refused to condemn conservative singer Ted Nugent for his racy lyrics.
Huckabee was already struggling before the story broke, drawing just 8.6 percent of the Republican Primary vote according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls.
Overall, these stories appear to have little political effect, but it appears as though Huckabee may be hitting himself in the face with his response to the Duggar story.