As Rep. Kevin McCarthy beats a hasty exit from the race for House Speaker, there was a sudden surge of rumors flying around that part of the reason for his sudden departure is threats that an alleged affair with Rep. Renee Ellmers would surface. The rumors, which seem to have started mainly---perhaps exclusively---in right-wing circles then quickly broke into the mainstream media.
Both parties deny it, and the evidence for the affair is awfully thin, mostly a bunch of chatter from the same people who think Benghazi is a thing and that Planned Parenthood sells baby parts. In other words, not exactly the reality-based community. But there's a long and hilarious history of self-righteous "family values" Republicans being outed as hypocritical adulterers, which is enough to push the allegations into the mainstream media.
I personally would love to believe this rumor. Both McCarthy and Ellmers are anti-choicers that would see your life derailed by private sexual choices, and so seeing them get the medicine they'd dish out to others would be delightful. But there's reasons to be skeptical of this particular rumor.
For one thing, it's important to consider the source. As Gawker notes, the earliest published version of this rumor comes from Charles C. Johnson, who might be the most loathsome and mendacious member of the right-wing media, which is a major honor consider the stiff competition. The other "evidence" for the rumor appears to be similarly truth-challenged sources, like Breitbart News and Erick Erickson, who quickly deleted his post, talking about how the rumors exist. Add a couple anonymous sources and one of McCarthy's congressional rivals making insinuations, and that's about all you have.
But what should really make this entire thing give liberals pause is how convenient this rumor is. McCarthy isn't just paired off with any woman in the Republican caucus. He's paired off with a woman that is hated throughout the hard right, particularly when it comes to the anti-choice religious right. Not because she's pro-choice---as if!---but because, back in January, Ellmers spearheaded an effort to modify a House bill aiming to ban abortion after 20 weeks. The bill had an exception for rape victims, but only if they reported their rape to law enforcement, something fewer than half of rape victims actually do. This was Republicans treading into Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin territory again, pushing the myth that women are liars who "cry rape" at the drop of a hat, and Ellmers correctly realized that such misogynist mythologizing might make it harder to hoodwink voters into thinking anti-choice legislation is about "life" instead of misogyny.
She got her way, getting Republicans to shelve the bill, but in doing so, she made a permanent enemy with the anti-choice fanatics that increasingly run the party. Even though she's been a good soldier, even demanding the end of contraception funding for Planned Parenthood, anti-choicers have been pushing to keep her off the endless investigation committees against the organization. Pairing her off with McCarthy in the rumor mill would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone. Making it a sexual rumor is just genius, too. It not only feeds off the anti-sex sentiment that fuels the anti-choice movement that is out to get Ellmers, but it's the sort of juicy hypocrisy that the mainstream media can't ignore. But again, there is no substantive evidence so far.
Another juicy tidbit: At the same time Ellmers was turning herself into the most hated woman on the right in anti-choice eyes, McCarthy also made enemies in the movement by canceling an appearance at an anti-choice event.
Sex scandals grab headlines, but the real story here is a far more troubling one. It's a story of how a small but fanatical movement, one that sees not just abortion but all preventive reproductive care as suspect, is able to throw its weight around such that they are tearing up the ability of Republicans to choose their own leadership.