South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott was given the first question of Wednesday night’s Republican presidential primary debate, but his answer was beside the point to homophobic critics on social media apparently distracted by his newfound facial hair.
That’s right, the normally clean-shaven White House hopeful appeared to have spouted a mix of short black and gray hairs around his mouth in a new look that wasn’t greeted warmly on the app formerly known as Twitter.
At the same time, social media users employed twisted homophobic humor at the irony of Scott appearing to grow a beard amid Republican-led questions about his personal life.
In between the first debate last month and Wednesday night, Scott was the subject of an onslaught of attention centered on the fact that he, at age 58, has never been married.
Though Scott first said in May that he had a “girlfriend” – someone whom he has been compelled to increasingly speak about in recent weeks – Republican donors reportedly still expressed concern at the senator being single.
Fast-forward more than four months later and the identity of Scott’s “girlfriend” remains unknown.
Scott said earlier this month that his “girlfriend” would be introduced to the world “at some point.”
That was right around the same time that the Washington Post reported that “six friends” of Scott “said they didn’t know about a woman in his life.”
Republicans have touted themselves as the party of conservative values, which apparently includes viewing single adults suspiciously. But others have suggested the attention to Scott’s singleness is rooted in something else entirely.
“‘Bachelor status’ is code for ‘sexual identity,’” Boston Globe columnist and associate opinion editor Renée Graham recently explained in reference to the hullabaloo about Scott’s unmarried status. “And Republicans not keen on a candidate facing four criminal trials might be even more unlikely to support someone they might believe could be a closeted gay man.”
So when Scott debuted his goatee on Wednesday night, the resulting commentary took a homophobic route as social media users noted that the word “beard” was also a slang term for a person who dates someone of the opposite sex in order to conceal their homosexuality.
The attention has sparked ongoing chatter on social media pointing to the epidemic of homophobia within the Republican Party as what is fueling the questions about Scott’s personal life.
Remarking at the types of “beard” puns being shared on social media reacting to Scott’s goatee, one post quipped that “the jokes write themselves.”
Scott’s new goatee may have been a decision to try to draw attention to his campaign even though he just said days ago that he wasn’t worried about having a so-called “breakout moment” in the debate on Wednesday night after critics suggested he had an underwhelming showing the first time around last month.
During an interview this past Sunday, Scott told Fox News he just needed to keep “showing up” to meet with potential voters in influential states and not pay attention to polling numbers.
“The more time I spend in Iowa, the better off I will be. The more time I spend in New Hampshire, the better off I will be,” Scott said before adding later: “The good news is polls don’t vote, but people do, and so I need to make sure that I find myself in front of the most people as possible on a consistent basis.”
The latest national polling found Scott trailing the front-runner Trump by double-digits at a distant fourth place with just 6% of voters supporting his candidacy — a drop from his high of 11% in July.