The XX Factor

Sanford Supporters Go Weirder with Accusatory Push Poll About Colbert Busch

The Mark Sanford campaign gets even weirder

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mark Sanford’s “weird your way to winning” campaign strategy comes replete with moves such as getting sued for harassing his ex-wife and “debating” (and still somehow losing to) a cardboard cutout of Nancy Pelosi. Sanford, a Republican, is running in a special congressional election on May 7 in South Carolina against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who has the added advantage of being Stephen Colbert’s sister. Now, the head-scratching tactics have caught on with those shadowy third party operations that run push polls. As Think Progress writes, voters in South Carolina claim to have received push polls from Survey Sampling International, at the behest of a non-disclosed client, that ask a bunch of leading questions about Sanford’s Democratic opponent. A sample of the reported questions:

- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had had an abortion?”

- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you a judge held her in contempt of court at her divorce proceedings?

- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if she had done jail time?”

- “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she was caught running up a charge account bill?”

Hey, they don’t have to prove these accusations, since there are question marks at the end! Plus, we should remember that Colbert Busch can actually accuse Sanford of billing the taxpayers for his two-timing trip to Argentina.

South Carolina has a long history of dealing with sexualized smear tactics. John McCain lost the 2000 primary after rumors were floated that he had illegitimately fathered a black daughter and forced his wife to raise her. Nikki Haley got to enjoy a whole host of weird, almost surely untrue accusations that she’d slept with various political consultants. Newt Gingrich, whose colorful sexual history had not yet turned off South Carolina primary voters, was accused of forcing his ex-wife to have an abortion in a fake email sent to voters.

The abortion question aimed at Colbert Busch is a particularly delightful attempt to deflect sexual shame off the adulterous man in the race and onto its proper object: Any random woman we feel is unlikely to be a virgin. In a more sensible world, such a question would be no more remarkable than, “What would you think of Elizabeth Colbert Busch if I told you she had a tooth filled?” Not that there’s actually a scrap of evidence that Colbert Busch has had an abortion, but it sure would be nice if it didn’t matter.