Before Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan was a leader among far-right House Republicans, he was an assistant coach of the Ohio State men's wrestling team. During that period—from the late 80s to early 90s—the athletic facilities at the since-demolished Larkins Hall reportedly served as a hotbed of furtive sexual activity, including men having sex in stairwells and touching each other in the showers. One former wrestler told the Associated Press that "creepy people" lingered in abundance; another said that he faced "a gauntlet of sexual deviancy" after practice. Worst of all, team doctor Richard Strauss (who killed himself in 2005) allegedly sexually abused many athletes across many sports, groping them during exams, hitting on them, and staring at them while they showered. (Ohio State is investigating these allegations.)
Jordan is not accused of anything like that. Instead, he has been accused by several former wrestlers of knowing about what was going on and failing to act. But even more than the abuse itself, it's how Jordan—and the Republican Party more generally—has responded to the questions about it that has created the deeply disturbing scandal hanging over Congress.
"He knew about it because it was an everyday occurrence,” David Range, the seventh wrestler to speak out publicly against Jordan, told the Washington Post of the abuse. Some former wrestlers have defended Jordan, but even one of those admitted that Strauss's misconduct was so widely known that wrestlers would joke about it in the locker room: "If someone said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go see Doc Strauss,’ it would be like, ‘Oh, prepare to drop your pants.’” Two wrestlers said that a team member had come to Jordan directly and complained that Strauss tried to pull his pants down when he came to see the doctor for a thumb injury.
If these accounts are true, they paint a portrait of an institution that was failing these young men, an institution that Jordan was a part of. Of course, that does not make him singularly responsible for the wrongs done to them. He was in his 20s when he was an assistant coach at Ohio State, a young man himself, and it's not clear his failure to report the talk he heard would doom his political career. Paul Waldman at the Post suggested that Jordan could have ended the story by saying, "I wish I had understood then what I understand now. I and many other people didn’t take what was happening with that doctor seriously enough."
Instead, Jordan, the far-right Freedom Caucus that he is a part of, and the GOP more broadly have accused the wrestlers who have come forward with harrowing accounts of abuse of lying. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose office initially said he would wait for the results of the Ohio State investigation, called Jordan “a man of honesty and a man of integrity” on Wednesday while rejecting calls for an ethics investigation into him. "The ethics committee here investigates things that members do while they’re here, not things that happened a couple of decades ago when they weren’t in Congress,” Ryan said.
That argument may make sense, but other Jordan allies have gone much further. On Wednesday, Matt Gaetz, a trollish pro-Trump congressman from Florida, showed up on Lou Dobbs's Fox Business Network and declared, "There are people that have some loose affiliation with the deep state that are out to get Jim Jordan." Improbably, he linked the accusations to Jordan's ongoing work to discredit the FBI investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia. "These attacks against him are a direct consequence of the outstanding oversight work that Jim Jordan is doing," Gaetz said to a sympathetic Dobbs. "If Jim Jordan was not after the Department of Justice and the FBI, he would not be dealing with these allegations. They are totally false. I am confident in that to my core."
Jordan himself doesn't appear to have used the words "deep state" to fight the allegations, but said in a Fox News interview that “the timing is suspect” since he may run to replace Ryan as speaker. And a host of right-wing media outlets and fellow wingnut Congressman Louie Gohmert have thrown around accusations that the whole thing was was engineered by a Democrat-linked DC law firm. The over-the-top response has reached the point where Jordan came out on Twitter to attack CNN for a routine act of journalism:
Both parties instinctively defend their allies in times of scandal, but there really is a difference in how Democrats and Republicans act in these situations. Al Franken's resignation from the Senate is still controversial among Democrats, but there was a lively public debate about what he should do in the face of allegations he had groped and harassed women over a long period of time. There were conspiracy theories that Franken was being targeted by a right-wing smear operation, but that unfounded speculation was mostly confined to Twitter, not blasted out on cable news by sitting congressmen. In Jordan's case, Republicans have largely closed ranks and refused to admit maybe Jordan messed up as a young man.
This should come as no surprise after the GOP backed Roy Moore in last year's Alabama Senate race even after he was accused of sexual assault. Still, the hyper-partisanship is strange here because it seems so unnecessary. Even if Jordan had admitted he was at fault all those years ago, he would have likely cruised to reelection in his very conservative district—he's still likely to win, actually. So why has the right turned this into such a firestorm? Why deny these allegations so aggressively when an ongoing investigation could still very well find more evidence Jordan did in fact know about the abuse?
One explanation is that the Republican Party now believes that extremism in defense of the conservative movement is no vice. Even if it is conclusively proved that Jordan lied, the same people crying "deep state" will simply cry "fake news." The right-wing base will not punish politicians for pushing despicable conspiracy theories about sexual abuse victims in the same way they did not punish Donald Trump for spreading a racist birther conspiracy theory about Barack Obama for years, or for being accused of serial sexual violence himself. There will never be a "Have you no decency, sir?" moment because duh, people like Gaetz clearly fucking do not. They may think that this kind of insane full-court-press response to the scandal helps them, because it allows them to paint powerful conservative politicians as the real victims here. The lesson Trump has taught Republicans is that there is no reason to apologize for anything ever. It's nothing but grievance and bad faith all the way down.
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