"Scattered nervous laughter" was the first response to a joke a GOP congressman made during an election debate in South Carolina on Thursday, notes Roll Call. But disgust and "condemnation" took over afterward toward what some called an "inappropriate" reference to sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, per the Post and Courier. "Did y'all hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings?" said Ralph Norman in kicking off his debate against Dem Archie Parnell. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln." (The Herald notes a meme with the same basic joke had previously circulated.) Parnell didn't directly take on the joke in the debate, likely in trying to avoid his own issue being brought up: the revelation earlier this year he'd been accused of violently beating his first wife in the '70s.
"My opponent apparently thinks sexual assault is a joke. It is not," Parnell tweeted later. "But I guess that's the best we can expect from someone who pulled a loaded gun on his own constituents." That reference involved an April incident in which Norman pulled out a handgun during a constituent meet-and-greet to "make a point" on gun violence, per CNN. Democrats and others pushed back on Norman as well. But in a three-part tweet, Norman insisted his comments were made to "add a bit of levity" and that "people really need to learn to lighten up." State GOP Chair Drew McKissick added, "The joke is Democrats running the same old playbook of last-minute attacks against conservatives, while at the same time supporting a candidate for Congress that actually did commit assault against a woman." Others tried to spin Norman's joke as being more about Ginsburg's age. (Read more Ruth Bader Ginsburg stories.)