Bunny Ranch pimp Dennis Hof won a Republican primary by running as Donald Trump


Among the hundreds of primary election results from around the country, this one didn’t even make the topline news: Dennis Hof, the owner of half a dozen brothels in Nevada, won a GOP primary, ousting an incumbent Republican, for a seat in the state legislature. The district leans Republican, so it’s very likely that a pimp will win the general election.

Hof is an outspoken and colorful man, famous in part for a tawdry HBO reality show set in his brothels. He seems to possess considerable talent as a showman, and it should be noted that there’s nothing illegal about Hof’s businesses; his brothels operate in the only area in the country—a few remote counties in Nevada—where prostitution is legal. Had Hof achieved as much success in some other field, his candidacy wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.

But prostitution, legal or not, will never be right. We’re open to various ideas about how the criminal justice system should penalize it, but the oldest profession is always and everywhere morally wrong. A society that condones it normalizes the exploitation of women for monetary gain.

“It’s all because Donald Trump was the Christopher Columbus for me,” Hof told the Associated Press. “He found the way and I jumped on it.” Hof campaigned calling himself the “The Trump of Pahrump” (a region in Nevada). He even campaigned with the sometime Trump advisor Roger Stone, himself not unknown for sexual adventures.

No one is unaware of the president’s moral failings, and those who chose him over Hillary Clinton in 2016 correctly insist that the choice was no easy one: Clinton was a determined foe of social conservatism on every point; she was a case study in corruption and mendacity; and she was ready to drag her famously besmirched husband back into the White House.

But there were crucial differences between Clinton and Trump on the question of character. Whereas Clinton’s personal failings were mostly ethical, Trump’s were mostly moral. Whereas she took morally abominable views on social questions but did not live by them, Trump took mostly traditional views but lived as a libertine. And whereas Clinton labored to pretend she had no moral shortcoming—her vice paying tribute to virtue—Trump flaunted his flaws, or at least didn’t bother to hide them.

Republicans, and in turn the American electorate, chose Trump over Clinton. The question is whether that choice will lead Republicans and conservatives to soften or abandon their belief that the bearers of public office should live morally circumspect lives. That’s why this otherwise insignificant primary election in Nevada should trigger klaxons among elected Republicans, conservative activists, and—especially—the leaders of religious organizations that have embraced the Trump presidency as their own.

It was one thing to argue in 2016 that Trump was better than the alternative, or even that, for all his flaws, he would secure some worthy policy victories. The election of Hof offers no such mitigating arguments. Voters chose him over a perfectly acceptable incumbent Republican. And while it would be nice to dismiss Hof’s victory as a manifestation of weirdness from a remote region of the West long inured to legal prostitution (another brothel owner is a county commissioner in Nevada), Hof campaigned explicitly on national issues and emphasized his (and Republican voters’) affinity for Trump.

This suggests that Hof aims to go beyond state politics. If he decides to use the statehouse as a springboard for national office, the Democrats and the media can be counted on to use his campaign as a constant reminder of Republican hypocrisy on moral issues. We hope that won’t happen, but if Hof doesn’t follow his Columbus into this strange New World, other unprincipled men surely will.

The sacredness of the traditional family, the reality of fixed moral standards, the virtues of sincere religious observance, and the importance of personal character—these are what an earlier generation perhaps mawkishly called “family values.” But they are worth preserving all the same, and conservatives who hide them under a bushel to win a few elections will lose far more than they gain.





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