Nation/World

2016 is the year of the messy private life - and the year when it no longer matters

HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio – In this deeply conservative part of Ohio, full of corn fields and horse-drawn Amish buggies, people know all about Donald Trump's two very public divorces, his extra-marital affair with a beauty queen who became his second wife and his five children from three marriages.

But more surprising to many voters than the complexity of Trump's "Modern Family" personal life is that it is not stopping them from voting for him.

"The other day I was thinking: Why doesn't it bother me that he has had three wives?" said Carole Shetler, 66, a pastor of a Christian church who also works at the Wholesome Valley Farm store. "We have been desensitized."

Only one other president, Ronald Reagan, had ever been divorced when he sought the White House. But Reagan had only one ex-wife. And unlike Trump, he did not have women publicly feuding over him – nor appear on the cover of Playboy magazine.

A messy private life – at least, when it's known – has long been viewed as a disqualifier for a run for the highest office. Just ask former senator John Edwards of North Carolina, whose 2008 White House bid imploded following revelations that he'd had an affair.

But in 2016, millions of voters are merely shrugging about personal lives that once seemed scandalous.

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Many ordinary Americans wind up divorced. Then there's the fact that the marriage of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is viewed as far from perfect. Both are key reasons people gave in interviews here that explain why they no longer weigh a candidate's personal lives as much as they once did.

"Let's face it – there is not a lot of choice," said Shetler, a Trump supporter who recalled the sex scandals around former president Bill Clinton. "We have to have change. I know other pastors and they are for Trump, too."

Today, fewer than half of all children – 46 percent – are living with two parents who are both in their first marriage. According to Pew Research, in the 1960s, three out of four were.

Trump has said he continues to have good relations with his first two wives, and he is often praised for his parenting. The oldest three of his children, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, work alongside him in the family business and are key campaign advisers.

Trump's family will be a major part of the convention this week, and he is counting on them to help boost his support.

Trump's third wife, Melania, spoke Monday night. The 46-year-old former model born in Slovenia is 24 years younger than Trump, who recently turned 70. The couple has a 10-year-old son named Barron.

"There is a great deal of love in the Trump family, That is our bond, and that is our strength," Melania Trump said Monday night as she spoke about what a great father her husband was.

Trump's three oldest children are from his first marriage, to Ivana Zelníčková. While still married to her, he had a very public affair in 1990 with beauty contestant Marla Maples. Maples was famous for confronting Ivana Trump on the ski slopes of Aspen and was widely quoted as describing her relationship with Trump: "The best sex I've ever had."

Maples, who ultimately became Trump's second wife, had a daughter Tiffany, now 22, with Trump; Tiffany too will also be onstage at the convention.

Trump, in an interview earlier this year, took a rare pause when asked if the American public would care about his complicated personal life, and in particular his affair with Maples. "I haven't thought about it," he said as he sat in his office in Manhattan. "I don't see it as a very big situation. It was a long time ago and, number two, the marriage was over, not officially."

He then added: "I may be wrong. I am learning everything I do is a big deal."

But Trump may not be wrong.

"I don't care if he had 10 wives," said Parker Bosley, 77, a retired chef interviewed at Wholesome Valley Farm on Route 62, which runs through this picturesque Ohio county. "I am very French on this – a personal life is personal. What I care about is how a candidate would manage the country."

Shelter, who was selling peach jam and other homemade goods at Wholesome's farm festival this past weekend, said she and her husband serve as pastors in a small Christian congregation. The farm lies in an unincorporated area of this overwhelming Republican county of 44,000, which includes a large Amish community.

"Christianity is all about forgiveness," said Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University who will be speaking on Trump's behalf at the convention. Falwell said many Christians don't criticize Trump for his private life because they understand the Bible teaching about letting only those without sin "cast the first stone."

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Some here do still believe a candidate's personal life tells a lot about their judgment.

Joel Salatin, an Amish man who was sitting in a gazebo at the farm festival with his wife of 29 years next to him in a white bonnet, said he will not vote this year. Instead, he will pray.

"Definitely, it bothers me," he said of Trump's three wives. "We are on a downward spiral."

Michael Cromartie, who directs the Evangelicals in Civil Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, also said he does not consider it a positive development that people overlook affairs and broken marriages in their leaders. "Character matters. This is an indication of the state of our moral and cultural moment."

But perhaps most surprising is that even some of the Amish who are so traditional that they do not use cars or cellphones say they support nontraditional Trump.

"I don't want to be judgmental, but I would give both Clinton and Trump a D for their personal lives," said a 64-year-old Amish farmer who was selling organic seeds at the festival. When he looks around at the non-Amish in the United States, he sees so many people who don't get married, or who get married several times, that he wondered aloud who would qualify if the job was open only to those who had remained faithful to their first spouses. He said he has been married for 41 years, has four children and 10 grandchildren, and supports Trump over Clinton because the Republican candidate is stronger against abortion.

"While a candidate might not be ideal in terms of moral standards, the electorate find itself willing to give a pass for larger issues of the economy and national security," said Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family.

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