A key factor in this changing world is, of course, Donald Trump. He was elected despite Americans knowing that he was a serial adulterer who actively sought tabloid coverage of his personal life. He even infamously boasted about sexually assaulting women in the Access Hollywood tape. Since taking office, the revelations that he had paid hush money to two women to cover-up affairs have led to no discernible consequences whatsoever for Trump with his base of white Evangelical Christian voters.
“I’ve certainly heard from a number of people who said if Republicans will vote for Trump than we can’t risk the election over these stupid text messages,” said Graig Meyer, a Democratic state representative from North Carolina. Meyer added that “folks who don’t like his behavior are still likely going to vote for him and probably that has a lot to do with how close everyone knows the Senate is … and has been highlighted by the Supreme Court confirmation hearings.”
But Republicans still saw the scandal exposing new weaknesses for Cunningham. One national Republican strategist noted that while voters are “slightly desensitized on sex scandals,” Cunningham campaigned on issues of integrity and character. It set the tables for attacks on hypocrisy and trust and reinforced the “you don’t know the real Cal” narrative that Republicans had been pushing, which had been as much about his policy views as his peccadilloes. Republicans have not shied away from making his affair a campaign issue and have run ads accusing his campaign of being “one big lie.”