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OPINION

Tim Scott has a woman problem

Like nagging parents, some Republicans want to know why the presidential candidate has never been married.

Tim Scott's crummy polling numbers probably have less to do with being unmarried than his unwillingness to define himself as anything other than an affable Trump sycophant.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

In the 1992 documentary “The Kennedys,” Priscilla McMillan, a researcher for John F. Kennedy during his Senate years, recalled what the young senator told her shortly after Jacqueline Bouvier became his wife: “‘I only got married because I was 37 years old … and people would think I was queer if I weren’t married.’”

Perhaps Kennedy was joking. But even someone with his rakish reputation knew that too many careless whispers about his persistent bachelorhood might eventually scuttle his White House dreams.

Which brings us to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. The Republican presidential candidate is not married. He has never been married. There is no indication that he has plans to get married. And that’s a problem for some Republicans who, like nagging parents, want to know why Scott, 57, is unmarried.

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According to a recent report in Axios, “Top GOP donors and their allies privately are pushing (Scott’s) team for more detail about his bachelor status before deciding how much to support him in the presidential campaign.”

“Bachelor status” is code for “sexual identity.” 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.

(And no, there’s never been a speck of GOP pushback against the personal life of the thrice-married Donald Trump who has cheated on his wives and been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women.)

The irony of Scott’s dilemma is that he’s never met an anti-LGBTQ policy he wouldn’t endorse. He opposes same-sex marriage. He wants to strip federal funding from elementary and middle schools that allow trans kids to use preferred pronouns without parental consent. He voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act to extend job protections to LGBTQ people.

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Now the same anti-queer virulency that Scott heartily supports is threatening his presidential aspirations.

Barely into his campaign in May, Scott was asked at a “News Shapers” event hosted by Axios what he would say to people “hesitant to vote for a single man talking about family values.”

After talking around the question, Scott said, “The fact that half of America’s adult population is single for the first time, to suggest that somehow being married or not married is going to be the determining factor on whether or not you’re a good president or not — it sounds like we’re living in 1963 not 2023.”

Scott’s numbers are off. According to a Pew Research Center poll in 2022, 30 percent of this nation’s adults identify as single. But he’s right — this is not 1963. Yet Scott only recognizes the inherent horrors of a throwback America when he’s the target of archaic views. He extends no such courtesy to women and girls now forced to endure what earlier generations suffered — desperately seeking an abortion, often at personal, financial, and even legal risk.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, Scott ranks near the bottom among Republican presidential candidates. But his crummy numbers probably have less to do with being unmarried than his unwillingness to define himself as anything other than an affable Trump sycophant. In a New Hampshire diner last month, a retired schoolteacher confronted Scott, saying “You don’t stand up to Trump, how are you going to stand up to the president of Russia and China?”

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Scott tried to claim otherwise. But there he was during the first Republican presidential debate last month joining the majority of his fellow candidates pledging to support the quadruple-indicted Trump if the former president again becomes the nominee — even if Trump is convicted on any of the 91 charges he’s facing in four jurisdictions.

That, not Scott’s private life, should be disqualifying.

At the Axios event, Scott made a passing reference to “my girlfriend,” though no one seems to know if this woman exists. Why Scott hasn’t put a ring on it or at least brought his “girlfriend” out on the campaign trail is his own tale to tell and, perhaps, he’ll soon have to share it if he wants Republican donors to keep opening their wallets for him.

James Buchanan remains this nation’s only lifelong bachelor elected president, and there’s always been speculation about his sexuality — although his failure to prevent America from plunging into the Civil War is why he’s been branded as one of the worst presidents ever.

He never responded to the salacious murmurs. Increasingly it looks as though Scott might not have that choice. But after telling trans kids to defy their gender identity to compete in school sports and pushing restrictions on reproductive choices of women and their families, Scott has no room to claim his private life is no one’s business but his own.

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Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her @reneeygraham.