The Republican “culture of corruption” might be an election factor again

Hunter heads for the court room.
Hunter heads for the court room.
Image: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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The last time a San Diego Republican was indicted for comical crimes, his party lost control of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who famously accepted a $7,200 commode from lobbyists, among other bribes, stepped down less than a year before the 2006 election. This time around, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., who allegedly used campaign funds to purchase flowered shorts and fly his pet rabbit to Washington, D.C., is in jeopardy a few months shy of the midterms.

As is the Grand Old Party. In the era of Donald Trump, Democrats have an unpopular president to run against, as they did with George W. Bush in 2006, when they last flipped control of the legislative chamber. But to get beyond voters’ ideological boundaries, Democrats also ran against a “culture of corruption.” Exit polls in 2006 said that corruption and ethics were “extremely important” to 41% of voters, more than any other issue polled.

Besides Cunningham, Republicans were at the time embroiled in scandals surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff (paywall) and his tight relationship with party leader Tom Delay. (Delay resigned in 2005 to fight unrelated campaign-finance charges, which he was convicted of in 2010 and saw overturned in 2013.) Rep. Mark Foley was accused of making sexual advances to congressional pages, and resigned. Voters didn’t even know that speaker of the House Dennis Hastert sexually abused young boys while a wrestling coach (paywall), which was not reported until after his retirement.

Today, voters do know that a leading candidate for speaker, Rep. Jim Jordan, has been accused of looking the other way as a wrestling coach when a team doctor sexually abused more than 100 college students. And besides Hunter’s indictment, they have also seen Rep. Chris Collins indicted for insider trading he allegedly put in motion while visiting the White House.

Outside the Capitol, three Republican cabinet secretaries—Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and David Shulkin—resigned under investigation for using their official powers for personal benefit. Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross faces allegations of taking millions of dollars from his business partners. Interior secretary Ryan Zinke faces 14 federal investigations. Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson faces questions about his spending, including $31,000 in office furniture he bought with taxpayer dollars.

That’s not to mention the conviction of the president’s campaign chairman for financial fraud, or guilty pleas from his national security adviser, deputy campaign manager, personal attorney, and campaign foreign policy adviser, stemming from investigations into Russian election-meddling.

Recent elections have proven that partisan polarization is hard to overcome, but a poll last month found that a majority of voters in Republican-held districts thought the GOP was “more corrupt” than Democrats. That’s hardly the only reason political forecasters say the Democrats are favored to win the House of Representatives, but it might be the critical one.