South Carolinians are generally considered by pollsters and politicos to be values voters. Nestled firmly in the heart of the Bible Belt, South Carolina is home to culture war bastions like Bob Jones University and is associated with such famous values clashes as Berkeley County Detention allowing inmates to read nothing but the Bible in their cells.
But South Carolina, a state that has gone for the Republican candidate in every election since 1980, has a rather spotty history of picking candidates who are themselves embodiments of Christian values. A few noteworthy figures:
1. Strom Thurmond – Perhaps the most influential politician ever in South Carolina, Thurmond fathered a child out of wedlock and vigorously supported segregation and other racist institutions.
2. Mark Sanford – The former governor of South Carolina and head of the Republican governor’s association was famous for marketing his faith to conservative evangelical voters. But in June 2009, Sanford’s mysterious hiking trip in the Appalachian Trail unearthed a nearly decade-long extramarital affair. Sanford also violated campaign finance law more than 61 times.
3. John C. Calhoun – Calhoun, a titan of American history, was a key figure in the Petticoat Affair, a social disaster that destabilized the Jackson presidency. The intellectual godfather of the South’s Civil War, Calhoun championed nullification, slavery, and succession.
4. Francis Pickens – Pickens was the architect of South Carolina’s succession from the Union at the outset of the Civil War. Ostensibly a champion of state’s rights, Pickens was an ardent supporter of the slave system. According to Calhoun, Pickens had “a strong enfusion of envy, jealousy, and vanity in his composition.”
5. Andrew Butler – South Carolina senator who, while vehemently supporting slavery, fathered several children with his slave mistresses.
6. Preston Brooks – On May 22, 1856, Senator Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with his heavy walking cane. Sumner took more than three years to recover from his wounds.
7. Newt Gingrich – The former Speaker won the South Carolina presidential primary on Saturday despite his three marriages, two of which were dissolved while his wives were battling serious illness. Gingrich is also the only Speaker in history to be convicted of a House ethics violation.
For voters who are said to care deeply about a personal morality, South Carolinians have overlooked an awful lot of personal indiscretions.