Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy has had one hell of a last month.
In early September, the Republican House member admitted to an extramarital affair with a “personal friend” following the unsealing of divorce records that showed he had been involved in a relationship with Shannon Edwards, a forensic psychologist.
“This is nobody’s fault but my own, and I offer no excuses,” Murphy said in a statement issued through his attorney, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “To the extent that there should be any blame in this matter, it falls solely upon me.”
It got much, much worse on Tuesday when the Post-Gazette reported on a text message exchange between Edwards and Murphy in which she alleges he urged her to have an abortion.
“And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options,” wrote Edwards in the text obtained by the Post-Gazette.
A text reply sent from Murphy’s phone read: “I get what you say about my March for life messages. I’ve never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don’t write any more. I will.”
Edwards was not ultimately pregnant.
Murphy’s personal foibles are not the point here. What is the point is that he is someone who has been an outspoken critic of abortion rights in his public life even while apparently being much more willing to consider it when it impacts him personally.
Murphy was a co-sponsor of legislation – passed in the House on Tuesday night – that would make it illegal for women to abort a baby after the 20-week mark. He has a perfect 100% score with National Right to Life, having voted with the organization on five key pieces of legislation, including the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act.” As my former Washington Post colleague Aaron Blake expertly documents here, Murphy was also touting his anti-abortion stance even as he was reportedly urging his mistress to seek an abortion.
This is hypocrisy of the worst sort. Murphy does one thing in his public life as an elected official and something very, very different in his private life. It’s literally a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do situation.
And it’s what people, rightly, hate about politics. The sense that politicians don’t think the rules apply to them. The idea that all politicians are lying liars who have one position in public and a totally contradictory one in private. That they don’t really believe anything they are saying.
It’s those feelings which play a major part in the terrible image people hold of Washington these days. In a September CNN poll, just 20% of people approved of the job Republican leaders are doing in Congress; 32% approved of Democratic leaders in Congress. Less than three in 10 had a favorable opinion of the Republican Party in that same poll, the lowest mark ever recorded in CNN data.
It’s that dissatisfaction, distrust and disdain that gave us Donald Trump. Trump blasted politicians – in both parties – as ineffective losers. So deep was peoples’ dislike for traditional politicians that they were willing to take a massive risk – and, make no mistake, they knew it was a major risk – on Trump as president.
When you see a politician like Murphy, you can see why. Not all politicians are like him. Most aren’t. But he is a classic bad apple spoiling the bunch.
His office has not commented on this latest report on text messages. Murphy was unopposed for re-election in 2016 and he sits in a district in western Pennsylvania that gave Trump a 17-point margin.
But this is the real conundrum of US politics. If past is prologue, there’s a real chance Murphy will win again. Just before the 2012 election, reports came out that Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Republican opponent of abortion rights, had urged his pregnant mistress to get an abortion. He won. In the wake of that election, much more came out – including the fact that DesJarlais and his ex-wife had mutually agreed she have two abortions. He faced a serious primary challenge in 2014 – but won. DesJarlais was re-elected to a 4th term with 65% in 2016.
That’s the reality of our politics. And why so many people hate it so much.