It's election season on Scandal, and the Republican field includes two female candidates, along with a pseudo-Trump. But instead of focusing on the issues, all anyone wants to talk about is Mellie (Bellamy Young) and Susan (Artemis Pebdani)'s love lives. Tonight's episode of Scandal is all about the first Republican debate. While many have compared Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) to Donald Trump, the presidential race isn't a complete mirror of the current election cycle. Hollis only has two fellow Republican candidates — remember how many GOP presidential hopefuls there were when the real-life 2016 race started? — and Sally (Kate Burton) is moderating the debate solo, a breakthrough for women. That fact is undermined, though, when Sally allows the candidates to discuss whether women are their "husband's keepers." Mellie uses the line to distance herself from Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), suggesting she'd be stronger about Second Amendment freedoms than he has been during his presidency. But for Susan, the idea of being her "husband's keeper" gives her the debate victory. Susan launches into a heart-wrenching speech over the loss of her husband, whom she says died in Afghanistan, while protecting an oil pipeline — the same one to which Hollis' company is linked. (Are mentioning the pipeline and Defiance becoming Scandal's version of "We were on a break?") Unfortunately, that rhetoric doesn't make it past Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and the gladiators. After some digging into marriage records, the team at OPA discovers that Susan and her late "husband" weren't actually married — and that's not even the worst of it. Susan's "husband" wasn't the biological father of her daughter, Casey — Casey's biological father is, in fact, Ronnie (Matthew John Armstrong), who's been imprisoned on drug-related charges. As Olivia prepares her takedown of Ronnie (and of Susan's campaign, since she's Mellie's campaign manager), we see how much she really is her father's daughter. Olivia also gives a speech about hell and high water in this episode, a reference to one of Rowan's most famous lectures.
The white hat is nowhere to be found as Olivia adopts her father's tactics, too. She tells Democratic candidate Frankie Vargas (Ricardo Chavira)'s brother about his rival Edison (Norm Lewis)'s visit to a rehabilitation facility for an addiction to painkillers, and it only gets worse from there. When Ronnie refuses to cooperate with Olivia's plan to expose Susan, she threatens to plant drugs in his prison bunk to extend his sentence. At this point, she loses support even from Huck (Guillermo Diaz), who tells Liv it's wrong to bring Susan's daughter, Casey, into the mess. It's clear that Huck is speaking from a place of hurt, since he's no longer in touch with his own son. Still, where was this compassion when Huck threatened Elizabeth's (Portia de Rossi)'s daughter? Olivia's plan reaches a tragic end, though, when the gladiators hear that Ronnie was found dead in an apparent suicide. It wouldn't be the first suicide attempt on behalf of Olivia's threats — in past episodes, both Amanda Tanner and a Bandari translator tried to kill themselves because of her words, though in both cases, they were telling the truth. Olivia doesn't seem too torn up about the matter, though — the episode ends with her and Fitz vowing to run clean campaigns, and Olivia mocking him for using the phrase "keep it real." Of course, this is Scandal, so there may still be more to Ronnie's death — someone could have paid Charlie or Jake to make it look like a suicide. Still, the loss of an innocent life might make Olivia think twice about her recent choices as the season continues. It's not too late to dust off that white hat, Liv! We all know David (Joshua Malina) won't be wearing it anytime soon. And speaking of David — the show's resident anti-Nice-Guy-turned-sadsack — at this point, his character is little more than a stand-in to remind us about sexism in politics. Susan wins the debate, but in Elizabeth's words, what she's really won is David, and all interviewers want to ask her is about their relationship. As Susan says to David, "America loves a love story."