On Monday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigned rather than face certain removal from office and potential prosecution for using state resources to hide his affair with a former staffer.
As late as Friday, however, Bentley was adamant that he would not step down.
Never mind that the great majority of the most damning evidence against him was obtained by his own wife, Dianne. For those who don’t recall, Dianne discovered some highly inappropriate text exchanges between her husband and his senior political adviser, Rebekah Mason. She discovered many of those texts after they synced to the state-issued iPad her husband gave to her.
And never mind that within days of the scandal breaking in full in March 2016–even before it was clear that laws had been broken–several lawmakers from his own party were falling all over themselves to call for Bentley to go. So how was Bentley able to hold on for so long?
Well, Allan Blinder of The New York Times did some digging, and seems to have found part of the answer. It looks like a significant segment of Alabama’s politically active Christian conservatives stood by him because he made the right clucking noises on hot-button social issues.
Conventional wisdom suggested that when it emerged that Bentley and Mason were indeed having an affair, it should have crippled him among the state’s Christian conservatives. After all, Bentley won primarily by portraying himself as an uber-devout Baptist deacon who wore his faith on his sleeve. That same conventional wisdom should have suggested that Bentley’s career should have ended when it emerged that he’d sent Mason a salacious text from his state-issued phone. That would have gotten most of us fired in the private sector. Had a Democratic official done this, a lot of people on the left–including yours truly–would have called for that official to go right then.
But according to Wayne Flynt, a retired history professor at Auburn and one of Alabama’s most distinguished historians, evangelical voters are willing to overlook moral foibles as long as a candidate is “sound on all of the fundamentals.” Apparently those “fundamentals” change from cycle to cycle. Nowadays, Flynt said, the fundamentals are “hating liberals, hating Obama, hating abortion, and hating same-sex marriage.”
Hmmm, this sounds awfully familiar. For the most part, the religious right stood behind Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tapes came to light. To hear the nation’s so-called moral guardians talk, those tapes, as well as other instances of Trump degrading women and reveling in it, didn’t matter as much as ending abortion, marriage equality, and the Iran deal. With few exceptions, they’re still standing behind Trump, even though many of our worst fears have come to pass and some new outrages have emerged. But all that matters is that the Donald has vowed to appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.
It is no coincidence that Bentley’s resignation came roughly 48 hours after the release of a remarkably detailed report by the special counsel for the state house. It proved beyond any doubt that Bentley had enlisted state employees to cover up his affair, and had bullied and intimidated them into keeping quiet. And, of course, it included excerpts from the texts Dianne had captured as part of her slow-motion strangulation of her husband. There was no way that even the most rabid single-issue fundie could defend this, as evidenced by the deafening silence from Alabama’s fundies after this report came out. Within hours of the start of impeachment proceedings, Bentley was done.
Given the parallels between the Alabama religious right’s support for Bentley and the national religious right’s support for Trump, will a smoking gun regarding the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia be enough for the fundies to stop bowing before the Orange Calf? That remains to be seen.
(featured image courtesy Tech. Sgt. Matthew Garrett, part of public domain)