Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has shown promise as a Republican candidate for president who could break through in the party primary.
But the 57-year old Scott has never married, and that’s a concern for some Republican donors, Axios reported Thursday.
How long has it been since the U.S. elected an unmarried president?
Americans have elected only two bachelors to the presidency in 234 years: James Buchanan in 1856 and Grover Cleveland in 1884.
Cleveland subsequently became the only president to get married while in office. At age 59, he wed 21-year old Frances Folsom.
However, it’s now more common than it’s ever been in U.S. history for people to remain unmarried. Marriage rates have steadily declined over the past half-century.
“To suggest that somehow being married or not married is going to be the determining factor of whether you're a good president or not — it sounds like we're living in 1963 and not 2023," Scott said in May.
So why does it matter to some in the GOP whether he's a bachelor?
Keeps his private life very private
Scott has said he regrets the way a political career has crowded out space for relationships, but he has never publicly dated during his time in office.
“I think in the right time, I will meet Mrs. Right, and she’ll want to have a couple kids,” he said in 2018.
A 2019 Pew Research Center survey of 9,834 respondents showed that about half of Americans think marriage is important but not essential for living a “fulfilling life,” and that only about 1 in 6 people think marriage is “essential.”
Read more from Yahoo News: Does Tim Scott have a path to the presidency?
But the same survey also showed that greater numbers of Americans place value on being in a “committed romantic relationship.” One in four adults said a committed romantic relationship was “essential” to living a fulfilled life.
In addition, older Americans — who vote in much greater numbers than younger people — placed more value on marriage and committed romantic relationships.
In May, Scott told Axios he had a girlfriend, and this week a Scott adviser said the candidate would say more about this. A spokesman for the senator did not respond when asked for more details.
“I’ve seen that he’s mentioned a girlfriend who remains unidentified, which signals his heterosexuality to anyone who might care,” said Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of the book Jesus and John Wayne, a bestselling study of masculinity in the evangelical subculture.
“There are expectations for politicians to be married (good) with children (best),” Du Mez told Yahoo News in an email. “For African American men — especially those trying to appeal to a conservative white base — this may be even more important.”
GOP primary voters place big emphasis on marriage
Scott is an evangelical Christian, and in the Republican presidential primary, evangelical Christians are a dominant voting bloc.
Marriage is generally emphasized in religious cultures. Authors who have written about evangelical culture have noted that this is certainly the case among Christians in America and around the world.
The integrity of “conservative family values” was badly undermined by former President Donald Trump, who has spent his life reveling in discarding wives and mistresses. But Trump was still married — demonstrating that conservative attitudes about marriage may be more about signaling who is “normal” and who is not.
Indeed, singleness has been discounted and devalued by many Christians, according to author Anna Broadway, whose forthcoming book Solo Planet argues against the view that if you’re not married “something must be wrong with you.”
Broadway wrote last year for Christianity Today magazine that Christians often have a “binary (and nonbiblical) approach to partnership, which deems marriage good and singleness mostly bad.”
“Christians impute to marriage and children a sense of maturity and worth. This often makes singles feel like what the Chinese call ‘bare branches,’” Broadway wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2021. “Intentionally or not, churches regularly reinforce this attitude through marriage-centric sermons or religious classes for singles that focus on marriage as a goal, overlooking many older or celibate worshippers.”
Broadway argues for what she calls an “empowered singleness.”
For now, however, Scott’s singleness is a challenge for Republican primary voters, who tend to view marriage as a key ingredient in a fulfilling and healthy life.
Read more coverage of the 2024 Republican primaries on Yahoo News