In age of Trump, evangelicals back
self-styled top U.S. pimp
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[June 23, 2018]
By Tim Reid
PAHRUMP, Nev. (Reuters) - He styles himself
as America's best-known pimp, a strip-club owner who runs multiple
brothels and looks set to win a seat as a Republican in the Nevada
legislature with the blessing of many conservative Christian voters.
Meet Dennis Hof, whose political rise reflects fundamental changes in
electoral norms that have roiled the Republican Party and upended
American politics during the era of President Donald Trump.
“This really is the Trump movement,” Hof, 71, told Reuters in an
interview at Moonlite BunnyRanch, his brothel near Carson City in
northern Nevada that was featured on the HBO reality television series
“People will set aside for a moment their moral beliefs, their religious
beliefs, to get somebody that is honest in office," he said. "Trump is
the trailblazer, he is the Christopher Columbus of honest politics."
When news broke that Hof had won the nominating contest for a state
Assembly seat on June 12, evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes said he
closed his eyes and prayed.
He did not ask God to deliver Nevada and the Republican Party from Hof,
the thrice-divorced author of "The Art of the Pimp" who campaigned as
the "Trump of Pahrump." Although Christian groups have long rallied
against the state’s legal brothel industry, Fuentes was willing to
overlook Hof’s history as a champion of the flesh trade and gave thanks
for his victory.
"People want to know how an evangelical can support a self-proclaimed
pimp,” Fuentes said in an interview at his home in Pahrump, an
unincorporated town of 36,000 people that is the largest community in
the sprawling, rural district where Hof is favored to win in November's
He said the reason was simple. “We have politicians, they might speak
good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their
decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that."
The pastor said he felt Hof would protect religious rights, among other
In Hof's Republican-leaning district, seven evangelicals said they voted
for him because they believed that he, who like Trump is a wealthy
businessman and political outsider, would also clean up politics and not
be beholden to special-interest groups and their money.
"I’m kind of rich, I’m kind of famous, and I’m surrounded by hot chicks.
I don’t give a damn what anybody says about me," Hof said.
The source of Hof's wealth - he owns a strip club and five legal
brothels - did not deter his supporters.
Nor did the allegations by several women that Hof sexually abused them.
Hof denied the accusations, including a former sex worker's claim that
he raped and choked her several years ago, and the voters interviewed by
Reuters dismissed them as lies.
Hof was reluctant to discuss his own Christian faith.
"I don't share my beliefs with the public," he said. "I don't feel the
need to go to church on a regular basis."
LOSING FAITH IN ESTABLISHMENT
For decades, evangelical voters have been a pillar of the Republican
Party in the United States, using grassroots muscle to turn out votes
and engage in political battles over hot-button social issues such as
abortion and same-sex marriage.
But in recent years, many conservative Christians have lost trust in
establishment Republicans, whom they accuse of not fighting for values
they feel are under attack in modern America.
For them, Trump symbolizes a new breed of politician who is willing to
upend long-held political norms — a quality they say outweighs any real
or perceived moral flaws.
"It’s more important for evangelical voters that Trump is fighting for
an idealized, white Christian, conservative America," said Dan Cox,
research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, a
nonpartisan organization that researches the intersection of religion,
culture and public policy. "Tribal values now supersede personal
morality as an animating force."
[to top of second column]
Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite BunnyRanch legal brothel and
recent winner of the Republican primary election for Nevada State
Assembly District 36, sits in the parlor of the brothel in Mound
House, Nevada, U.S. June 16, 2018. Picture taken June 16, 2018.
Convinced Trump would go to bat for them, a majority of evangelicals
looked past the Republican's two divorces and allegations of marital
infidelity to provide him key votes in the 2016 presidential
Their support remains robust: 71 percent of white evangelical voters
said they approved of Trump's job performance, according to the
nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted online from June 1-18,
compared with 43 percent of U.S. registered voters overall.
TRUMP THE TORCHBEARER
Hof beat a three-term incumbent legislator even as party activists
pushed to get Hof's legal brothels shut down. Voters in Lyon County,
where he operates four of his brothels, will be asked in November if
they want the businesses closed.
Brothels have been permitted in parts of Nevada since the 1800s and
were first licensed in the 1970s. They are not permitted in highly
populated areas, including the counties containing the cities of Las
Vegas and Reno.
Voter Debbie Thomas said she signed the petition to shutter brothels
but also backed Hof, who campaigned on issues including repealing
Nevada’s commerce tax, protecting gun rights, improving education
and protecting residents' water rights against the federal
Hof has gotten a mixed reception from Republican leaders. The
chairman of the state party said it welcomed "fiscal conservatives"
such as Hof. But Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s Republican governor, Dean
Heller, the state's vulnerable Republican U.S. senator up for
re-election this autumn, and much of the party establishment have
not endorsed him.
No matter, said Hof. He credits Trump as the torchbearer for a new
era of Republican, eager to embrace the support of the religious
right, eschew the establishment and break the mold of a traditional
Trump has not weighed in on the race. But Hof held a rally with
former Trump adviser Roger Stone and said he would not be in a
position to win the district without the president's transformation
of the party.
Some conservative Christian voters, however, were quick to note that
their affinity for Trump did not extend to Hof.
Paul Goulet, a pastor who leads the International Church of Las
Vegas, a megachurch, said he was disappointed the brothel owner had
earned a spot on the general election ballot.
“For me, it goes back to faith and values," Goulet said in a
telephone interview. "Hof has a profession making money out of young
women who sell their bodies for sexual favors. It’s demeaning to
women. I can’t wrap my brain around supporting someone who does
Others were willing to set aside the morality test of the past to
Robert Thomas, a retired prosecutor and evangelical who along with
his wife, Debbie, voted for Hof, said Hof's brothels "bother me a
lot" but that he was willing to overlook them.
“Dennis Hof seems to me to be a man of his word and he does what he
says,” Thomas said.
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)
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