Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) appears to be doing something that nine other members of Congress haven’t been able to in the past year: survive a sexual-assault-related scandal with his political career intact.
Jordan’s career isn’t just intact; it appears to be thriving this week. The man who has been accused by seven former wrestlers at Ohio State University of knowing or likely knowing about sexual harassment on the team and not doing anything about it just announced he’s running for speaker of the House.
Less than 12 hours before he made that official, Jordan filed highly politicized articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Like Jordan’s speaker bid, getting Rosenstein impeached is a long shot. But it will be a hit in some conservative circles — especially with the president of the United States.
Another stroke of luck for Jordan: The House of Representatives is a day away from leaving town for the summer. That means Jordan’s colleagues won’t be put on the spot by reporters to talk about the allegations against him.
Jordan denies knowing anything about sexual misconduct toward the team as a coach in the ’80s and ’90s, which was so rampant they got moved to different facilities to shower. Ohio State has a schoolwide investigation going into its then-athletic doctor, who has been accused of abusing athletes across sports.
Not that Jordan needs much of a buffer from Congress to survive these allegations. The Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the House all said they believe him over these wrestlers.
President Trump, who has demonstrated that men accused of behaving badly is no disqualifier for him, was among the first to back Jordan.
Vice President Pence did as well. Pence told The Washington Post in July: “I take him at his word. I know Jim Jordan. He’s a person of faith. He’s a man of integrity.”
Barring a bombshell that provides inconvertible proof Jordan knew something, it looks like he’ll escape any repercussions from these allegations. Other members of Congress haven’t been so lucky. Nine members of Congress have lost their jobs over sex in the #MeToo era.
Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the center for American Women and Politics, says there are a few things going on here that likely give Jordan more cushion than your average lawmaker.
While the #MeToo era has signaled that egregious behavior can cost a politician their job (Al Franken posing for a photo appearing to grope a woman, for example), society still makes a distinction between someone directly accused of assault and accused of contributing to a culture of assault. Dittmar points out that a man accused of fostering a culture of sexual abuse at Fox News, Bill Shine, is now in a senior position at the White House.
Also, Jordan is a man. A powerful one, with leverage in Congress. Jordan almost immediately got support from other men who want to be speaker next year, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and who need the votes of the conservative faction Jordan leads to do it.
There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence that voters are more willing to brush off male politicians’ accusations than a woman’s ethics troubles. Roy Moore lost his Senate race after being accused of misconduct with teenager girls, but he still got 650,000 votes, Dittmar writes in Gender Watch 2018, a nonpartisan blog about women in politics. Also see: Trump. His alleged affairs and accusations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women were public when he won election.
“We don’t have empirical proof, but there is something to the fact that men are given the benefit of the doubt more often than their female counterparts,” Dittmar said.
Jordan is also embroiled in a scandal about other men, who by definition of being college wrestlers are perceived as strong and thus capable of taking care of themselves. Men’s stories of assault just don’t seem to be taken as seriously, notes The Fix’s Eugene Scott.
Then there’s the distraction theory — that Jordan’s reach for the top of politics comes because of the allegations. It’s just a theory, but it’s now in the mainstream after the top House Democrat, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), promoted it.
Jordan’s been rumored to want to run for speaker for a while, long before the wrestling allegations surfaced. But Pelosi’s partisan attack highlights one more factor we can’t ignore when asking why Jordan’s job seems secure amid all this: He’s a Republican.
Research analyzed by gender politics scholar Melissa Deckman from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that Republican voters are more likely to give an accused candidate the benefit of the doubt than Democratic voters. PRRI found that the majority of voters who think that sexual harassment claims are often a misunderstanding back the Republican voter (63 percent).
So, Jordan is a powerful man with leverage in a party whose voters are more inclined to give accusers the benefit of the doubt. And the accusations against him don’t have the same resonance as some of the other accusations that have brought down his colleagues.
It looks like Jordan is here to stay. And run for speaker.