The Republican Party wasn’t always synonymous with far-right Christian fundamentalism. The late five-term Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who was considered the epitome of an arch-conservative when he ran for president against Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, had no use for the Religious Right. Goldwater famously said that “the Religious Right scares the hell out of me,” and he said of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, “All good Christians should kick him in the ass.”
It isn’t that Goldwater abandoned right-wing ideas and became passionately liberal/progressive; rather, the Republican Party moved way to the right of him on social issues. From the early 1980s on, the GOP has pushed an agenda of militant social conservatism—and the more the GOP became the party of far-right Christian fundamentalism, the more Republican politicians and the evangelists who supported them became involved in major sex scandals.
Of course, the Democratic Party has had plenty of sex scandals as well. But most of the Democrats who have become involved in major sex scandals (Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Gary Hart, among others) had not marketed themselves as extreme moralists. Post-1970s Republicans, all too often, have been self-righteous, preachy, overbearing, holier-than-thou witch hunters—and in many cases, the ones who screamed the loudest about how godly they were turned out to be the exact opposite.
1. Jimmy Swaggart
Pentecostal televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who is a cousin of rock-and-roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and country singer Mickey Gilley, was preaching fire-and-brimstone Christian fundamentalism before the 1980s; his television program started in 1975. But it was during the 1980s that Swaggart rose to prominence in right-wing politics and, along with Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. James Robison and Rev. Pat Robertson, greatly influenced the Christian Right’s influence on the GOP. Swaggart’s sermons are as political as they are religious, and he has never been shy about describing feminists, liberals, Democrats and rock musicians as agents of Satan who promote immorality at every turn. But in 1988, it was revealed that the adulterous Swaggart had been cheating on his wife with a New Orleans prostitute named Debra Murphree. And his association with prostitutes did not end after his famous “I have sinned” speech of 1988. In 1991, Swaggart was with prostitute Rosemary Garcia when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol; Garcia said Swaggart had asked her for sex. On top of all that, Swaggart has admitted to having a long history of porn consumption (even though he has often called for tougher enforcement of obscenity laws). And he appears to have dabbled in something else Christian fundamentalists condemn: BDSM. In a 1989 Penthouse interview, a woman named Catherine Campen said that when she was having an affair with Swaggart, he asked her to beat him with a riding crop.
2. Laura Schlessinger
Although America’s Religious Right has been dominated by Protestant fundamentalists, not all far-right culture warriors are Pentecostals or Southern Baptists. For example, talk radio host Laura Schlessinger, a.k.a. Dr. Laura, was a convert to Orthodox Judaism (before renouncing it in 2003), and she has made a career out of railing against sex education, abortion, premarital sex, porn, feminism and homosexuality (the gay-bashing Schlessinger once said that “a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys”). But for all her moralizing, Schlessinger hasn’t always acted like a Puritan; in the late 1990s, some nude and topless photos she had posed for in the mid-1970s were published on the Internet. The photos were taken by the late radio shock-jock Bill Balance, who sold them to an adult Web site. Schlessinger filed a lawsuit for invasion of privacy and copyright infringement, but a court ruled that the photos were not her intellectual property. Schlessinger’s “queen of family values” routine is also laughable considering that when her mother died in 2002, it was widely reported that Dr. Laura hadn’t spoken to her since 1986.
3. Newt Gingrich
In 1998, President Bill Clinton was lambasted by a long list of Republicans when it was revealed that he had cheated on his wife, Hillary Clinton, with intern Monica Lewinsky. One of his loudest critics was House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich (who asserted that Clinton showed “a level of disrespect and decadence that should appall every American”). But while Gingrich was lambasting Clinton for committing adultery and trying to get him impeached, he was also cheating on his second wife, Marianne Ginther, with a woman (Callista Bisek, who became his third wife) who was 20 years younger. And that wasn’t the first time Gingrich committed adultery. In the early 1980s, Gingrich cheated on his first wife, Jackie Battley, with Ginther—and when Battley was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery, Gingrich insisted on discussing the terms of their divorce. After that, Mr. Family Values refused to pay Battley either alimony or child support (a local church took up a collection to help her out financially). Despite his history of serial adultery, Gingrich had no problem playing the “family values” card during his recent bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
4. David Vitter
Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana is infamous for his extreme social conservatism and for pandering to the Christian Right. Vitter has supported a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage nationwide (although he claims to support “states rights,” Vitter makes an exception when it comes to gay marriage), promoted abstinence-only sex education, called for school board meetings in Louisiana to open with prayers, and repeatedly preached against abortion. Vitter loves to play the red state/blue state card, saying that he represents socially conservative “Louisiana values” rather than secular “Massachusetts values.” But in 2007, it was revealed that Vitter had been a client of the Washington, DC escort service operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, a.k.a. the DC Madam; Vitter admitted he had cheated on his wife with a prostitute, but no criminal charges were filed because of the statute of limitations. Despite his blatant hypocrisy, Vitter was re-elected to the Senate in 2010.
5. Rush Limbaugh
“The Rush Limbaugh Show” has always been full of sexual contradictions. On one hand, the far-right talk radio host has a long history of supporting the Christian Right and telling his audience that the Republican Party is the true voice of morality in the United States. On the other hand, the twice-divorced Limbaugh is quite fond of off-color humor (“PMSNBC” is his name for MSNBC) and sexual innuendos. Limbaugh will use sex to boost ratings at the same time he’s preaching God, family values and morality to the GOP base. Limbaugh’s schizophrenic relationship with sex was recently exemplified by his heavily publicized attack on Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, whom he denounced as a “slut” and a “prostitute” for saying that health insurance plans should cover female contraception. Limbaugh said that if other people were going to pay for Fluke to have sex, she should film the sexual act for his viewing pleasure. In other words, he was asking Fluke to make a porn video, which is ironic in light of how much time Republicans have spent railing against the adult entertainment industry. Limbaugh’s hypocrisy doesn’t end there; previous Limbaugh scandals have ranged from his well-documented addiction to painkillers in 2003 to being detained for three hours at the Palm Beach Airport in 2006 for possessing a bottle of Viagra that wasn’t in his name.
6. Larry Craig
During the many years he spent in Congress (18 years in the Senate preceded by 10 years in the House of Representatives), Republican Larry Craig of Idaho was a strident social conservative with a very anti-gay record. Craig opposed gay men serving in the U.S. military, and he favored adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have outlawed same-sex marriage nationwide. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group that rates politicians’ voting records on gay issues, gave Craig a rating of 0 in 2004. But in June 2007, the married Craig was arrested for lewd conduct in a men’s room stall at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport; an undercover police officer said that Craig’s behavior indicated he was seeking a sexual encounter (Craig pled guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct). And in December 2007, no less than eight gay men alleged to the Idaho Statesman that they had either had sexual affairs with Craig or that he had made sexual advances to them.
7. Ted Haggard
Evangelical minister Ted Haggard has never been known for embracing a moderate approach to Protestant Christianity. Very much a fundamentalist, Haggard was a strong supporter of George W. Bush’s presidency and did a lot to rally GOP “values voters” in 2004. Haggard has been quite the culture warrior, loudly preaching against abortion, premarital sex, adultery and gay marriage. But in 2006, a male escort named Mike Jones revealed that the married Haggard had been a client; in addition to paying for sex and committing adultery, Jones said, Haggard was fond of using crystal meth. Admitting to his followers that he was guilty of “sexual immorality,” Jones resigned from his position with the National Association of Evangelicals.
9. Jim Bakker
Jimmy Swaggart was not the first right-wing Pentecostal televangelist to be involved in a major sex scandal. In 1987, Jim Bakker (who co-hosted “The PTL Club” with his wife, Tammy Faye Bakker) was disgraced when it came out that he had cheated on his wife with church secretary Jessica Hahn and paid her $265,000 to keep quiet. In 1989, Bakker was convicted of fraud and racketeering charges in a federal court and sentenced to 45 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, but he was granted parole in 1994. Swaggart, ironically, was vehemently critical of Bakker in 1987, calling him “a cancer on the body of Christ” because of his affair with Hahn—and all the while, Swaggart was every bit the adulterer himself.
1. John Ensign
During the years he represented Nevada in the U.S. Senate (and before that, the House of Representatives), Republican John Ensign was held in high regard by the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and other Christian Right theocrats. Staunchly anti-abortion, he was a Pentecostal who considered himself “born again.” He voted in favor of a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and he was active in the Promise Keepers. The Christian Coalition gave him a 100% rating in 2003, while the Human Rights Campaign gave him a rating of only 11% in 2006. Like many other Republicans, Ensign called for Bill Clinton’s resignation in 1998, saying that an adulterer was unfit to be president. But as much as Ensign liked to talk about the sanctity of marriage, he didn’t practice what he preached; Ensign ended up resigning from the Senate in 2011 because of the scandal surrounding his adulterous affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of Douglas Hampton, an administrative aid in Ensign’s office and a close personal friend.
12. Michael D. Duvall
As a member of the California State Assembly, Republican Michael D. Duvall had a reputation for being an outspoken social conservative. Duvall opposed abortion as much as he opposed gay marriage, and he insisted that heterosexual marriage had to be protected because it was the backbone of America. But in 2009, Duvall not only admitted to cheating on his wife, he bragged about it. During a lull in an appropriations committee meeting, Duvall told fellow California State Assembly member Jeff Miller that he had been cheating on his wife with two different women (one of them a lobbyist). Duvall didn’t realize that a microphone was picking up the conversation, and his comments, some of which were quite graphic, became a matter of public record. For someone who loved to paint himself as a staunch moralist, Duvall certainly took a great deal of pride in committing adultery. Duvall resigned from the California State Assembly the day after the story broke.
14. Tony Alamo
In the 1970s, evangelist/cult leader Tony Alamo, a.k.a. Bernie Lazar Hoffman and his wife Susan made a name for themselves in evangelical circles preaching a far-right version of fire-and-brimstone fundamentalism. But in the ’80s, Alamo’s behavior became so bizarre that much of the Christian Right distanced itself from him. After his wife’s death from cancer in 1982, Alamo put her embalmed body on display for months and insisted that when his congregation raised her from the dead, she would tell them when Jesus Christ would return to Earth. Also around that time Alamo began publishing his conspiracy theories involving the Catholic Church (which he considered “the Great Whore of Babylon” and believed was controlling the Soviet Union, Islamic terrorists and the Reagan Administration all at the same time). Initially, Alamo was a Ronald Reagan supporter, although he turned against Reagan when he decided that his administration was pro-Vatican. The worst, however, was yet to come. In 2009, Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in prison on a long list of charges that included sexual abuse and transporting underage girls across state lines for sexual purposes. Alamo’s ex-followers testified in court that he was guilty of numerous acts of pedophilia, including taking an eight-year-old girl to be his “wife” and having sex with her. Despite a mountain of damning evidence, the sociopathic Alamo has maintained that he is innocent of all the charges he was convicted of and insists that he was framed by the Vatican.
16. Mark Sanford
These days, the Christian Right has so much influence in the Republican Party that it is next to impossible to become the Republican governor of a southern Bible Belt state if one isn’t a social conservative. Mark Sanford had a socially conservative record during his years as governor of South Carolina (he was elected in 2002) and before that, a member of the House of Representatives. He opposed abortion and gay marriage, voted to impeach Bill Clinton, and described Clinton’s actions during the Lewinsky scandal as “reprehensible.” Sanford, however, became involved in a scandal of his own when, in 2009, it was revealed that he had been cheating on his wife with a woman from Argentina named María Belén Chapur (whom he had met in Uruguay in 2001). Sanford was censured by the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee for his misuse of state travel funds.
18. Mark Foley
Florida Republican Mark Foley served in the House of Representatives from 1995-2006, during which time he had a reputation for being socially conservative even though he wasn’t quite as conservative as some of his fellow Republicans would have liked. In 2003, Foley received an 84% rating from the Christian Coalition, which was lower than the 100% rating John Ensign received that year but much higher than most Democrats typically received from that organization. And his voting record was generally anti-gay, which was ironic in view of the fact that, in 2006, he got caught up in a gay sex scandal involving teenage male congressional pages. Foley, who had been sending the pages sexually explicit emails, resigned from Congress.
19. Roy Ashburn
Republican Roy Ashburn had a very anti-gay voting record when he served in the California State Senate from 2002-2010; he organized rallies opposing gay marriage, and he voted against having a day in remembrance of the slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk. In 2010, however, Ashburn was arrested for DUI after leaving a gay nightclub in Sacramento. Ashburn announced that he was gay, and gay activists pointed to his anti-gay voting record as a classic example of self-hatred.