Since her historic filibuster against anti-choice legislation last summer, Wendy Davis has vaulted from a little-known Texas state lawmaker to a bona fide national progressive star. And her long-shot bid for governor this year in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in nearly two decades started to look a little less long-shot with the news last week that she’d raised over $12 million.
Conservatives have looked in vain for ways to take Davis down (one idea, calling her “Abortion Barbie,” pretty much blew up in their faces). Now at last, Davis’ opponents think they’ve hit pay-dirt, seizing on a lengthy Dallas Morning News report that found Davis has been inaccurate or misleading in recounting some of the details of her personal history. But the response from some on the right suggests that for them, Davis' real transgressions may lie elsewhere.
It seems that Davis’ real sin isn’t playing fast and loose with her biography. It’s making life choices they disagree with—including the decision, as a mother, to prioritize her career. And it's hard to imagine those choices generating criticism were Wendy Davis a man.
Davis has said she was a divorced teenage mother who, through hard work and perseverance, went from living in a mobile home to Harvard Law School. That up-by-the-bootstraps persona has been a central part of Davis’ appeal.
But according to the paper, Davis was divorced at 21, not 19, and lived in a mobile home only for a few months. Later, Davis’ second husband, Jeff Davis, helped her pay for her final two years of college and for Harvard Law.
“My language should be tighter,” Davis acknowledged to the DMN. “I’m learning about using broader, looser language. I need to be more focused on the detail.”
But conservatives aren’t letting her get off that easy.
“Texas abortion heroine lied about being a single teen mom,” blared the Drudge Report in a tweet Monday morning.
“I await Wendy Davis's lawsuit against the Dallas Morning News claiming it harmed her mental health by revealing her lies,” tweeted Erick Erickson, the uber-influential conservative pundit who founded of RedState.com.
“It turns out that Wendy Davis’s personal story is a bit more er, complicated, than her glowing portrayal of it,” tweeted Fox News anchor Brit Hume.
And a report on the conservative news site Breitbart.com notes that during Texas’ 2012 redistricting case, Davis testified in federal court that she was divorced by the time she was 19—the implication being that Davis knowingly gave false testimony. (Davis was helping challenge a redistricting plan passed by Texas Republicans, which carved up her district. A federal court ultimately fund that the plan intentionally discriminated against minorities.)
It’s no surprise that conservatives are jumping on the story. But some are going further—they’re using the DMN report to attack Davis for being a bad mother.
“Wendy Davis apparently abandoned her children, had her husband foot her bills, and divorced after adultery accusations,” tweeted conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, sarcastically adding the hashtag “FeministHero.”
That’s a reference to the story’s account that Davis’ kids, then 8 and 2, stayed with Jeff Davis in Fort Worth while she went to Harvard Law. The story also notes that Jeff Davis’ initial divorce filing cited adultery, but adds: “The final court decree makes no mention of infidelity, granting the divorce solely “on the ground of insupportability.”
That’s just one of hundreds of anti-Davis tweets in a similar vein, several from prominent conservatives like Shapiro.
“I cheated on and left the guy who cashed out his 401(k) to put me through college and law school,” wrote conservative pundit David Freddoso, explaining how he thinks Davis could more accurately present her life story.