Callum Borchers: A parallel political universe

Twenty-seven months into the Donald Trump political phenomenon, it is easy to forget what used to qualify as big news — something like, say, a sex scandal involving an eight-term congressman and a woman half his age.

 

You didn’t hear about this? Huh. Maybe it’s because after the media covers President Donald Trump’s DACA decision and Trump’s deal with the Democrats and Trump’s handling of major hurricanes and Trump’s son telling senators about meeting with a Russian lawyer, there isn’t much time to cover an admission by Rep. Tim Murphy that he carried on an extramarital affair last year.

To illustrate the extent to which Trump dominates every news cycle, we took a cue from a format many have applied to foreign news and imagined what a report on Murphy’s affair might look like in a parallel universe where the Trump phenomenon never happened:

Rep. Tim Murphy on Wednesday admitted to carrying on an extramarital affair with a woman half his age, dealing a self-inflicted blow to his re-election prospects in 2018 and rattling congressional Republicans, who acknowledged privately that the “low-energy” start to President Jeb Bush’s first term already has put their House majority in jeopardy.

Murphy, 64, acknowledged a sexual relationship with Shannon Edwards, 32, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette successfully petitioned an Allegheny County judge to unseal documents in a divorce case involving Edwards and her husband.

“I ask the media to respect the privacy of my family,” Murphy said at a packed news conference in Washington. “They have done nothing wrong and deserve to be left alone.”

The salacious details of the affair seem tailor-made for cable news; for one thing, Edwards is just two years older than Murphy’s adult daughter.

Indeed, prime-time pundits on CNN, MSNBC and even Fox News approached the story with a gusto that recalled the furor surrounding former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal. Bill O’Reilly, who weathered a brief public outrage over sexual harassment claims earlier this year, went so far as to suggest on his top-rated show that Murphy should resign and give the GOP time to rebound before the midterm election, rather than subject the party to a prolonged spectacle.

Edwards’ husband, Jesse Sally, alleges in divorce filings that Edwards and Murphy’s trysts occurred in Pittsburgh, Miami and Washington. Edwards, like Murphy, is a psychologist, and she told the Post-Gazette that they met when she volunteered to work on a mental health bill that he sponsored, which was signed into law in December.

She said that she and Murphy had traveled to advocate for the bill. In unsealing court documents, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Hens-Greco raised the possibility that Murphy abused the resources of his office in the course of the affair. “How does anyone know that it does not implicate his public duties?” she asked.

In a sign of how quickly the news of Murphy’s affair transcended politics, celebrity real estate developer Donald Trump tweeted that the congressman is a “total disgrace” and said during an appearance on “Access Hollywood,” where he was promoting the upcoming season of “The Apprentice,” that he had heard rumors of the relationship months ago.

Callum Borchers covers politics and media for The Washington Post.

 

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