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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Whip’s Pandering to Racists Has Republicans Mumbling Lame Excuses

High among the reasons why Republicans don’t get votes from African Americans and others who have a distaste for bigotry is the disturbingly high tolerance too many Republican leaders have for the ugliest forms of racism. The latest example from a Political Bulletin e-blast:

Tuesday saw a substantial increase in the coverage of the controversy surrounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise – following Monday’s revelation that in 2002 he spoke to an avowedly racist and anti-Semitic group founded by the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke. All three network newscasts had reports on the developing story, and the controversy is front-page news in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Most of Tuesday’s coverage portrayed Republicans, and especially the rest of the House Republican leadership, as steadfastly in support of Scalise continuing on in his position – despite the likelihood that the GOP’s efforts to appeal to minority voters will be undermined. Under the headline, “Boehner Stands By GOP Leader Who Spoke To Hate Group,” for example, USA Today reports that Speaker John Boehner characterized Scalise’s decision to speak at the 2002 event featuring conspiracies claiming that the government of Israel was responsible for 9/11 as an “error in judgment.” USA Today also reports that Scalise claims that he “does not recall the event.”
…Many reports indicate that Scalise’s claims that he did not know what group he was addressing, and that he now has no memory of speaking to the group, have been met with widespread skepticism. On Fox News’ Special Report, Rick Leventhal reported that “critics say it doesn’t pass the smell test,” and McClatchy reports that critics, including “influential conservative blogger” Erick Erickson of RedState, said Scalise’s “explanation that he was unaware…that he was speaking to a white supremacist group was a weak one.” Erickson wrote, “How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”
Indeed, according to Roll Call , “A 1999 Roll Call story revealed that Scalise was well-aware of David Duke’s politics, and he seemed to be courting Duke voters.” The Huffington Post added that in a “Monday night interview,” Duke himself “said it seemed a bit strange that Scalise – who had a friendly relationship with Duke’s campaign manager Kenny Knight, the EURO event’s organizer – claims he didn’t know what the group’s message was about.” Duke is quoted as saying, “It would seem to me, it would be likely that he would know.”
Notably, prominent conservatives are among the most vociferous critics of Scalise and Boehner’s defense of the GOP Whip. For instance, Matthew Boyle of Breitbart notes that conservative radio host Mark Levin and Fox News’ Sean Hannity both “are demanding a clean sweep of House GOP leadership, pushing for Boehner, [House Majority Leader Kevin] McCarthy, and Scalise to be removed.” Boyle also reports that Scalise’s “relationship with Duke’s top political hand, Kenneth Knight…last[ed] several years, and involved the top aide to the former KKK head actually campaigning for Scalise.” According to Boyle, “A top GOP aide with longtime ties to the Louisiana GOP delegation” says “rumors about Scalise’s close relationship with Duke’s top aide have been circling…at high levels in Louisiana for years.”

Not the first time a prominent Republican has been outed for flirting with overt racism. See Pauls, Ron and Rand, or even Reagan, Ron. Back then Republicans thought they could play footsie with racists and anti-semites under the radar. Those days are over and Scalise should have had the smarts to get a clue by 2002.

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