Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) kicked off his debate against Democratic opponent Archie Parnell at a local Kiwanis Club on Thursday with a joke he apparently borrowed from right-wing memes. It was a topical joke — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stands accused of trying to rape Christine Blasey Ford when both were teenagers, and Washington is consumed with the allegations — but that's probably the best that can be said for it. "Did y'all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings?" Norman asked. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln."
Accused of making light of sexual assault — not to mention Justice Ginsburg's age — Norman said in a statement that "people really need to learn to lighten up." He said his joke was "meant to add a bit of levity to a very serious debate" and "clearly my opponent understood it that way since for the next hour we engaged in a substantive discussion about our many differences without mention of my comments." His opponent, Parnell, won his primary after losing support from his party due to newly released records from his 1974 divorce showing he had assaulted his ex-wife and threatened her with a metal bar. Parnell did not deny the allegation but said he's become a changed man over the past decades.
Nevertheless, Parnell said later Thursday that Norman "apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not," and alluded to an incident from April: "I guess that's the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents." Norman tweeted back that "perhaps we should have a debate about your own abuse and harassment of women, Parnell," and this is why you should probably stick to inoffensive knock-knock jokes during campaign events. Peter Weber