A Political Meltdown in Trump Country

Joseph Cao served in Congress from January 3, 2009 to January 3, 2011. He represented Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district, which contains nearly all of the city of New Orleans. The Big Easy is a very Democratic town, but Rep. Cao is a Republican. If you’re wondering how he managed to win an election there in 2008, you need to look at his opponent. William “Bill” Jefferson had been indicted on June 4, 2007, charged with “sixteen felony charges related to corruption.” He was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to thirteen years in prison.

Jefferson’s case was made famous by the $90,000 in what prosecutors said was bribe money that the FBI found stuffed into his freezer and a legal battle over the raid of his Washington office, a battle that reached the highest levels of the U.S. government. He was convicted in August in U.S. District Court in Alexandria of 11 counts that included bribery, racketeering and money laundering. Jurors acquitted Jefferson of five counts.

Yes, the man had $90,000 in cash crammed in his freezer. Nonetheless, he decided to run for reelection in 2008, and he almost won. Mr. Cao received 50% of the vote (33,132) and Jefferson got 47% (31,318).

As a congressman, Cao got fairly high marks for doing a passable job of representing a heavily Democratic city while being a member of a hostile party. Nonetheless, he was crushed by Democrat Cedric Richmond 65%-33% in 2010, in what was otherwise a horrible election night for Democrats. I doubt there was anything he could have conceivably done in office to hold the seat.

I bring this up because Republican Rep. Tim Murphy of the 18th congressional district of Pennsylvania has just seen his political career implode in a spectacular manner reminiscent of the way Bill “Freezer Cash” Jefferson went down. So far, Murphy hasn’t been accused of any crimes, although I don’t think it should be legal to watch YouTubes on your iPad while you’re driving staff members at a high speed through a torrential downpour.

That incident is just one of many examples of Murphy’s deplorable behavior that were detailed in a memo by his longtime Chief of Staff Susan Mosychuk.

The June 8 memo, titled “Office Conduct and Behavior: Harassment/Legal Compliance,” says that there had been an “ongoing and ever more pronounced pattern of sustained inappropriate behavior” from the congressman.

The memo criticized his “inability to hire and retain competent staff, abysmal office morale,” as well as “hostile, erratic, unstable, angry, aggressive and abusive behavior.”

According to the memo, the office has had nearly 100 percent staff turnover in one year and that the office has lost more than 100 staffers since Ms. Mosychuk started working with Mr. Murphy. Ms. Mosychuk began working with him in 2003.

The memo says that its purpose was to detail the problems as they related to the office manual as well as the Congressional Accountability Act and seek corrective action.

The memo recounted events from June 2 and June 5 involving a visit Mr. Murphy made to his home district.

“You were storming around as we walked in, and as we sat down for prep — having just arrived literally moments ago — you started in on the [legislative director] and verbally abused him, harassed him, chastised him and criticized all his work products. You called many of the work products that he literally gave up his weekend to produce as ‘useless.’ You pushed other documents off the table onto the floor because they weren’t what you wanted. Then you got angry and demanded we find the documents that you had just thrown on the ground.”

The behavior detailed in this memo is worse than the above characterization makes it sound. In a normal congressional district, the revelations it contains would be fatal. But Tim Murphy’s seat is so safe that no Democrat has filed to run against him in the last two election cycles. I focused on Murphy’s home turf in my feature article in our June/July/August issue about How to Win Rural Voters Without Losing Liberal Values. Two of the major counties in the 18th congressional district (Greene and Washington) collectively made up seventy-one percent of Trump’s margin of victory in the Keystone State. The reason that I focused on those two counties is because they had swung so decisively against the Democrats that they stood out. In 2008, Obama and McCain split Greene County. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won only twenty-nine percent of the vote there. In Washington County, Obama lost by 4,571 votes in 2008 and by 12,885 in 2012. In 2016, Clinton lost by 25,064, which was more than half of the statewide margin. Murphy’s district is ninety-six percent white and two percent black, which explains why Trump’s racial polarization effort was so effective there. And the Democrats’ collapse in districts like Murphy’s also explains why they’re not going to make too much of an issue about new gun control regulations in the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre.

In these circumstances, Murphy could probably run and win again without too much worry. The Democrats are an absolutely toxic brand among his constituents. But things are quite a bit worse for Murphy than I have so far described.

A text message sent in January to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy by a woman with whom he had an extra-marital relationship took him to task for an anti-abortion statement posted on Facebook from his office’s public account.

“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,” Shannon Edwards, a forensic psychologist in Pittsburgh with whom the congressman admitted last month to having a relationship, wrote to Mr. Murphy on Jan. 25, in the midst of an unfounded pregnancy scare.

A text from Mr. Murphy’s cell phone number that same day in response says, “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.”

The congressman has been lauded by the Family Research Council, for his stance on abortion, as well as for family values, generally. He also has been endorsed by LifePAC, which opposes abortion rights, and is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, an affiliation that is often cited by his office.

There’s even a second extramarital affair disclosed in the leaked documents that dates back about a decade. But it’s Murphy’s hypocrisy in being a staunch anti-choice politician who asked his mistress to get an abortion that is getting most of the headlines. When that is taken in combination with the even more troubling information about his erratic and abusive behavior toward his staff and on the roadways, Murphy is definitely getting into Freezer Cash territory.

If he actually decides to run for reelection, a Democratic challenger should have a shot at beating him. Most likely, even a victorious challenger would vote with the Republicans a lot of the time in a (probably vain) effort to retain the seat. It wouldn’t necessarily add a lot of political value unless it became the deciding seat to determine control of the House of Representatives.

But, unlike New Orleans, the areas contained in the 18th Congressional District were competitive not too long ago. It’s actually vitally important that future Democrats do considerably better in the district than Clinton did, because as I’ve already mentioned, it made up more than half of Trump’s statewide margin of victory. For me, this is practically Ground Zero for the 9/11-style devastation of the 2016 presidential election.

The Democrats have plenty of reasons to want to take advantage of Murphy’s implosion here.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.