Republican candidate criticized for invoking 'Billy Graham rule' on campaign trail in Mississippi

Robert Foster
Robert Foster, who's running for governor of Mississippi, appears in an ad. |

A Mississippi gubernatorial candidate who has vowed to push back against the left-wing agenda is facing pushback after he invoked the “Billy Graham rule” when a female reporter asked to go on a campaign ride-along with him this week. 

Republican Robert Foster has been accused of being sexist after he told Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell that she needed to bring along a male colleague if she wanted to go with him on a 15-hour “ride-along” as he campaigned throughout the Magnolia State in the lead-up to next month’s primary election. 

Campbell told mainstream media that she was told by Foster’s campaign director, Colton Robison, that she could not be in the car alone with Foster because "they believed the optics of the candidate with a woman, even a working reporter, could be used in a smear campaign to insinuate an extramarital affair."

As reported by ABC News, Robison was alleged to have told her repeatedly that they “can’t risk it” this close to a primary.

In a tweet, Foster justified his decision by saying that he and his wife committed to following the “Billy Graham” rule.

“Before our decision to run, my wife and I made a commitment to follow the ‘Billy Graham Rule,’ which is to avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of our marriage,” Foster wrote. “I am sorry Ms. Campbell doesn’t share these views, but my decision was out of respect of my wife.”

The rule, which was made famous by famed evangelist Billy Graham, is a practice among some conservative Christians in which men avoid spending time alone with a woman that is not his wife. That means that the man will not agree to have a meeting or meal alone with another woman that is not his wife even if for professional reasons. 

The rule is one that is also adhered to by Vice President Mike Pence, which he has received much criticism for. Critics believe that the Billy Graham rule puts women at a professional disadvantage if they are not allowed to meet alone with men in power. Some say that such a rule props up outdated gender roles. 

Like Pence, the 36-year-old Foster was the center of media criticism following Campbell’s publicized complaint about his refusal. 

In an op-ed, Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse claimed Foster demeaned Campbell and all women by invoking the Billy Graham rule. She argued that there is not a “single inch of moral high ground achieved” by invoking the rule. 

“They just presume that your marriage vows are so flimsy that you can’t be trusted to uphold them unless a babysitter monitors you,” Hesse wrote. “It’s rather like a thief sanctimoniously announcing that he brings a parole officer every time he goes to the bank to make sure he doesn’t rob it. Good for you, dude, for knowing your own limitations — but it doesn’t make you better than the rest of us, who manage to regularly not steal things even when we’re completely alone.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wondered how Foster would govern if he invoked the Billy Graham rule if elected to office. 

“The risk of being photographed in the presence of a woman would multiply exponentially were he tasked with leading his state,” she wrote. “Would Foster simply refuse to meet with them? Would he request male escorts? Would he attempt to lead a state with no input or feedback or representation from women, unless those women were accompanied by men?”

Despite the criticism, Foster went on CNN's "New Day" to defend his choice to follow the Billy Graham rule in a panel segment that also featured Campbell. 

Foster told CNN that he has done several interviews with Campbell during his time as a state representative. 

“I have no problem doing interviews with any reporter. But this is a different request,” he reasoned. “It was going to be a 15- to 16-hour day and I have a very small campaign staff at this point in my campaign. I am the underdog candidate with a grassroots campaign and we don’t have a big staff. There are times where my campaign director and I have to go separate ways even during the middle of the day to try to cover different things.” 

“I didn’t want to end up in a situation where me and Ms. Campbell were alone for an extended period of time throughout that 15- to 16-hour day,” he continued.  “So out of precaution, I wanted to have her bring someone with her, a colleague. The other thing that I think is important to point out is that this is my truck. And in my truck, we go by my rules.”

Foster was asked whether he didn’t trust Campbell or didn’t trust himself. 

“I trust myself completely. But I don’t trust the perception that the world puts on people when they see things and they don’t ask the questions and they don’t look to find out the truth,” he responded. “Perception is a reality in this world and I don’t want to give anybody the opinion that I am doing something that I should not be doing.” 

Campbell responded by saying that none of the other Republican primary candidates have a rule like his. 

“Why does it appear improper for a man to be with a woman?” she asked.  “Why wouldn’t like a gay affair be construed if you were with a man unless at the end of the day, what you are saying here is that a woman is a sexual object first and a reporter second.” 

Foster responded:

“I put my faith and my religion, which is the reason why we have that vow, above anyone else’s feelings, including yours and I apologize to you for that it may hurt your feelings. But I would much rather uphold my vows to my wife over anyone else.”

Campbell pressed him on how he can be a good governor if he can’t be alone with a woman, even if women are part of his staff. 

“It’s real simple,” he said. “You always have the door open and have people right in the room next door. This is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a 15-to-16-hour vehicle ride in my truck. That is what we are talking about.”

In another tweet, Foster insinuated that he expected the backlash he is receiving for invoking the Billy Graham rule. 

“As I anticipated, the liberal left lost their minds over the fact I choose not to be alone with another woman,” he tweeted. “They can’t believe, that even in 2019, someone still values their relationship with their wife and upholds their Christian Faith.”

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