A Republican lawmaker who once expressed disappointment that he was not able to call women “sluts” stood by his comments Thursday, even as voters in his own party acknowledged how widespread the issue of sexual harassment remains.

In recordings from 2012 that were published Wednesday by CNN, Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) spoke out about the negative feedback directed toward conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh after he called Sandra Fluke, then a Georgetown law student, “a slut” and “a prostitute” after her congressional testimony about how her health-care plan did not cover birth control.

“What does that make her?” Limbaugh said on his show. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. . . . She wants to be paid to have sex. . . . She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.”

Lewis, himself a radio host at that time, spoke out against the criticism of Limbaugh.

“Well, the thing is, can we call anybody a slut?” he asked. “This is what begs the question. But it used to be that women were held to a little bit of a higher standard. We required modesty from women. Now, are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can’t call her a slut?”

Lewis and his campaign have said his comments were litigated at the time. But they take on a new dimension in the #MeToo era. Lewis's response to the criticism suggests that he doesn't fear a backlash for his comments from his fellow conservatives. In fact, he doubled down.

In an interview Thursday on “The Chad Hartman Show” on the Minnesota radio station WCCO, Lewis said:

Look, a rhetorical discussion about the cultural changes and whether we can hold anyone, male or female, to standards made for an interesting hour, made for an interesting rhetorical discussion. That's what you're supposed to do on talk radio. And if you're provocative when you do it, well, that's part of our job. I presume, you know, the people that are running with this story are looking for ratings as well. So, it's kind of sad that it's come back to this, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Lewis does not seem to fear repercussions from his comments or feel they deserve more scrutiny, even as headlines over the past year have drawn more attention to the language used toward and about women. He may be correct in that, but a recent Washington Post poll suggests that Republicans take sexual harassment seriously.

  • More than 7 in 10 — 74 percent — of Republicans said they think sexual harassment in the workplace is a problem. And nearly 6 in 10 — 59 percent — said it's a serious problem.
  • 65 percent of Republican women said they think recent attention on the issue will create lasting change in the way U.S. society deals with the sexual harassment of women.

However, one particular data point may explain why some question conservatives' commitment to fighting sexual harassment.

Nearly half of Republicans — 49 percent — think recent attention given to sexual harassment against women in the workplace “has gone too far.” When looking just at Republican women, most — 52 percent — said the recent focus on sexual harassment against women in the workplace has gone too far.

About 1 in 5 — 22 percent — Democratic women said the same thing. And only a quarter — 24 percent — of independent women think the attention on sexual harassment has gone too far.

This statistic feeds the perception some liberals have that Republicans, including women, are turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of women in society out of political allegiance. Trump opponents have said that many women — including a majority of white women — who voted for Trump ignored the multiple sexual harassment claims he faced when they chose him at the ballot box.

But since Trump's election, his support among women has dropped to the point that GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel sent a memo to White House aides warning that low popularity with women could hurt Republicans in the midterm elections in November. Only 35 percent of women approve of Trump's job performance, according to Gallup.

As Lewis moves forward in a race that some predict will be a tough fight for Republicans, his candidacy will be a test case for whether Americans want a “shock jock” representing them in Congress as the national conversation on sexual misconduct continues.