Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush (Reuters/AP/Sara Stathas/Kevin Lamarque/Stephan Savoia/David Manning)

5 of the most batsh*t offensive things GOP candidates have said about single mothers

Jeb Bush's endorsement of "Scarlet Letter"-style shaming is only the tip of the iceberg


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Jenny Kutner
July 3, 2015 11:00PM (UTC)

There are a lot of Republicans running for president in 2016, and they have denounced a lot of things. The specific lists of disapproval vary from candidate to candidate; Mike Huckabee, for instance, has got a pretty solid roster of stuff that makes him cluck his tongue, which might be longer than those of his dozen-plus peers who didn't spend the presidential election off-season bloviating on Fox News. But one thread among several of the GOP presidential contenders is a searing disdain for unwed mothers, who are apparently responsible for America's moral and economic decay.

While the majority of Republican candidates (with the partial exception of George Pataki) advocate policies that do zilch for single parents and, as a general rule, strip women of control over their bodies, livelihoods and futures, not all of the hopeful nominees have openly demonized unwed mothers. Ted Cruz has illustrated that he doesn't actually know what single moms do to support their families (besides wait tables, of course) and Marco Rubio thinks having kids out of wedlock increases the poverty rate by 82 percent -- but theirs appears to be an adversarial relationship with unwed mothers, not so much a transparently misogynist one.

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The same can't quite be said for all of the GOP candidates. Here are some of the worst things Republican presidential hopefuls have said about single motherhood:

Rick Santorum

Santorum has said he opposes abortion under all circumstances, including rape and incest, and has called contraception "not OK" because it supposedly gives people "a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." Those "things" would seem to include having sex outside of marriage and becoming pregnant, which -- gasp! -- is more likely to happen without access to birth control and -- second gasp! -- is more likely, without access to abortion, to result in the birth of a child.

Still, as Santorum explained in 1994, women who do have children out of wedlock are to blame for "the ruination of this country"; he also had a special proposal for deterring them:

"We are seeing it. We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms ... What we have is moms raising children in single-parent households simply breeding more criminals."

"What we say is that in order for Mom to be able to go on welfare if she has a child out of wedlock, you have to tell us who the father is ... If you don't tell us who the father is, you're not eligible for any welfare benefits, none, not even medical care. You tell us who the father is or you don't receive benefits."

"If Mom knows that she isn't gonna receive welfare if she doesn't tell us who Dad is, y'know maybe she'll be a little more careful, maybe ... Or maybe she gives us a list, say 'Well it could be one of five,' I mean, y'know, I don't know what she's gonna do, but at some point we're gonna see her cooperate."

Rick Perry

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You might recall the time the former Texas governor attempted to humiliate then-State Sen. Wendy Davis for being raised by a single mother and then becoming a teen mom herself, which he pegged to the lawmaker's epic filibuster of a draconian antiabortion measure he later signed. Here's what Perry said, just in case you forgot:

"In fact, even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."

Later, in an effort to pretend he wasn't totally slut-shaming Davis, Perry added:

"Actually, those comments were meant to be a compliment to her for what she had accomplished in her life, and you think about where she came from, what she’s accomplished. And as a matter of fact, I would think that she’s very proud of that as well. My point was that saving a life and letting that life come to its fulfillment and all the good things that happened."

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Rand Paul

Paul, a doctor, does not believe women should not have access to legal abortion, but he does believe that fertilized eggs should receive full personhood and constitutional rights. He does not believe contraceptive coverage (or any comprehensive health benefits) should necessarily be available to employees, but he does believe single women should stop having so many babies. In fact, last year, Paul opined that even though it will be "tough" to tell unwed mothers not to keep getting pregnant, there needs to be a way to "get that message through":

“Maybe we have to say ‘enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount'... I don’t know how you do all that because then it’s tough to tell a woman with four kids that she’s got a fifth kid we’re not going to give her any more money,” he continued. “But we have to figure out how to get that message through because that is part of the answer. Some of that’s not coming from government. It needs to come from ministers and people in the community and parents and grandparents to convince our kids to do something different.”

Mike Huckabee

Huckabee, who might well be tied with Santorum for the title of King of Condemnation, has singled out a few unwed mothers in his day -- whether to defend them, in the case of Bristol Palin, or to half commend/half shame them, as he did with Jamie Lynn Spears. But the Huckster really made his feelings on single motherhood clear when he called out actress Natalie Portman for getting pregnant before getting married and "glamorizing" her protruding belly and lack of a wedding ring:

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"One of the things that is troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, 'Hey look, we're having children, we're not married, but we're having these children, and they're doing just fine.’ But there aren't really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie. … Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.”

He put his foot a little further in his mouth when he responded to backlash over his first comments:

"My comments were about the statistical reality that most single moms are very poor, under-educated, can’t get a job, and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death. That’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that society often glorifies and glamorizes the idea of having children out of wedlock."

Jeb Bush

How could this list be complete without including Bush's whopper of disdain for unwed mothers, as illustrated in his 1995 book, "Profiles in Character." In a chapter called "The Restoration of Shame," the former Florida governor advocated the use of public humiliation as a way of deterring out-of-wedlock births, which seems to be in line with the "Scarlet Letter" law he signed in 2001, which required any unmarried woman putting a child up for adoption to publish her name, age and the names of her sexual partner(s) in the newspaper. Let's just have a look at what Bush had to say about handling the "problem" of single motherhood (not "parenthood" -- motherhood!):

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"One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful."

Bush has since claimed his views on the subject have "evolved," which seems to mean he has stopped openly advocating public shaming while still decrying the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births:

“My views have evolved over time, but my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of children hasn’t changed at all. In fact, since 1995 ... this book was a book about cultural indicators [and] the country has moved in the wrong direction. We have a 40-plus percent out-of-wedlock birth rate.”


Jenny Kutner

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