On the surface, Representative Blake Farenthold’s arc this week is familiar: Politician is accused of bad behavior; politician is accused of even more bad behavior; politician announces he’ll leave office.
In the case of the Texas Republican, that came after the series of scathing exposes in The New York Times and then CNN. The Times described an alcohol-sodden, sexually charged office in which “women would discuss which male lobbyists had texted them pictures of their genitals, and both men and women would talk about strip clubs and whether certain Fox News anchors had breast implants.” CNN heard that Farenthold screamed at staffers, called them “fucktards,” made rude comments about a staffer’s fiancee, and left the staffer in severe pain with daily vomiting. By Thursday morning, Farenthold was announcing he wouldn’t run for reelection, though he intended to serve out his term. (His ability to follow through will depend on whether further revelations emerge, and what sort of political pressure he receives—especially from other Republicans.)
But Farenthold’s case is also significant for its deviation from the normal pattern. Thus far, a strange dichotomy has developed within claims of sexual harassment. The last two months have seen many women newly inspired to share stories of bad behavior, be it recent or two decades ago. The men they are accusing have in many cases been toppled, for sins ranging from groping and lewd comments to rape. Meanwhile, men who stood accused of harassment or abuse before the sudden downfall of Harvey Weinstein have, for the most part, managed to remain in positions of power. It is as though accusations B.H. (Before Harvey) are grandfathered in. Farenthold, however, breaks the pattern: Even though stories of sexual harassment surfaced as early as 2014, that didn’t inoculate him.