The Dallas Morning News revealed some holes in Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis' biography this weekend. The state senator made famous by filibuster often refers to her struggles as a single mother in speeches — as the story goes, she took out loans and made use of financial aid to attend Texas Christian University and eventually Harvard Law, all while parenting young children. At one point, she lived in a trailer park. The outline of her story is true, but the Morning News revealed some inconsistencies — Davis' second husband, for example, helped pay for her schooling and care for her kids while she was at Harvard. She got a divorce from her first husband when she was 21, not 19. She only lived in the trailer home for a little while.
On Monday, Rush Limbaugh said Davis was a liar, just like all the other liberals. "She's a liberal Democrat," Limbaugh said. "They make things up." The hashtag game #MoreFakeThanWendyDavis went around Twitter. But some conservatives, eager to blow up Davis' (already slim) chances of becoming governor, have fallen for the trap of criticizing Davis' parenting choices rather than her oratory embellishments.
Ben Shapiro of Breitbart tweeted a joke about Davis' famous sneakers on Monday morning:
The real question: if you wear pink shoes, how fast can you run away from your parental responsibilities?— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 20, 2014
And conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch similarly criticized Davis for not being the right kind of single mom:
I would love to introduce @WendyDavisTexas to my mother so she can hear a real story of a former hard-off single mom who overcame odds.— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) January 20, 2014
Loesch's tweets provoked responses like these:
#WendyDavis couldn't be bothered with her own kids. She had a career to think about and a life story to fabricate.— DoomsDaddy (@DoomsDaddy) January 20, 2014
It's normal to question a politician's integrity, and expected that opponents will pounce when they're caught stretching the truth. (Davis herself admits, "My language should be tighter. I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.") But bubbling just underneath the surface of tweets about Davis' real story is the idea that good moms don't leave their children at home with Dad.
Republicans aren't against single mothers on principle. Sen. Ted Cruz mentioned them a lot during his faux filibuster back in September. But Cruz imagined these women "waiting tables," not studying at Harvard. Single moms seem to be the most sympathetic when they're struggling. And they have to be moms, first and foremost.
So as Shapiro and Loesch reveal, some conservatives still struggle to attack female candidates without sounding sexist. Today's attacks on Davis aren't even the first to involve her gender. Red State editor Erick Erickson led the charge in August when he started calling Davis "Abortion Barbie." This led supporters of her opponent Greg Abbott to get creative – one called her "Retard Barbie" on Twitter, and Abbott accidentally thanked him for his support. While Abbott insisted he doesn't approve of characterizing women as Barbies or mentally challenged, the blunder illustrates that it's hard to run a clean campaign when Republican supporters and pundits attack women for being women.