GOP leader says he didn’t know he was talking to white supremacists

     

    We interrupt this slow-news holiday week for a bulletin about bad Republican behavior.

    You know how the white-dominated GOP is always vowing to become more diverse, to woo minorities into its ranks? And then something inevitably happens to send the party back to the drawing board?

    Well, it just happened again.

    If you haven’t boned up on the House GOP’s new number three leader, Steve Scalise, I’d advise you to move fast – because there’s a chance he won’t be majority whip for long. Put simply, it’s bad political optics to share power with a guy who delivers a speech to white supremacists – yet claims to have had no idea that they were white supremacists.

    Granted, the speech was in the spring of 2002. But there’s no statute of limitations on willful ignorance.

    As detailed on Sunday by a blogger in Scalise’s home state of Louisiana, the future GOP leader showed up at a Best Western to address members of a group founded by David Duke, the infamous one-time scion of the Ku Klux Klan. Scalise was a state legislator at the time. Duke’s amorphously named European-American Unity and Rights Organization sponsored a white racist website and publicized Duke’s books.

    After the story broke on Sunday, Scalise’s House spin doctors went into overdrive. At first they said they couldn’t confirm whether Scalise had in fact addressed the group. Later they conceded that yes, he had indeed addressed the group, but that “he has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group,” and they said he didn’t know at the time that it was tied to David Duke. Scalise, on Monday night: “I didn’t know who all of these (hate) groups were.”

    But if that were true, it means that in 2002 Scalise had to be the dumbest person in Louisiana. Because apparently everyone else knew that the group he addressed was tied to David Duke.

    The hotel knew. A Best Western spokesman told a weekly New Orleans newspaper, “A contract to book this event was made some time ago…Our company does not share the views of this organization.” Which means that the readers of the weekly paper knew.

    USA Today knew. Just weeks before the Louisiana event, the paper reported that members of Duke’s group were agitating in Columbia, South Carolina to keep the Confederate stars and bars flying on the flagpole at the State Capitol. Which means that national readers of USA Today knew. And earlier in 2002, The Washington Post reported that Duke’s group was active in Virginia. Which mean that readers in the Nation’s Capital knew.

    Heck, even the minor-league Iowa Cubs knew. They originally booked their players to stay at the Best Western on the same days as the Duke confab, but pulled out. A coach told the press, “I wouldn’t have been comfortable staying there.” Given how cocooned ballplayers are, the Cubbies’ awareness of Duke is the most demonstrable evidence that everyone knew. Except Scalise, if you believe what he’s saying now.

    This flap brings to mind something else that happened in 2002. Senate minority leader Trent Lott attended a 100th birthday bash for his colleague Strom Thurmond, the one-time Dixiecrat Party leader who had run for president on a segregation platform in 1948. At the bash, Lott made the mistake of revealing his true feelings: “I want to say this about my state (Mississippi). When Strom ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”

    A firestorm ensued – what “problems” was Lott alluding to? desegregation? – and even conservatives were infuriated. Commentator Jonah Goldberg called Lott’s remarks “incandescently idiotic,” and Bush administration speechwriter David Frum called them “the most emphatic repudiation of desgregation to be heard from a national political figure since George Wallace.” This happened at a time (another time) when the GOP was vowing to reach out to minorities. And when the dust settled, Trent Lott was no longer the Senate minority leader.

    Should Scalise keep his post as the House minority whip? I yield the floor to Erick Erickson, the incandescent conservative blogger-activist, writing on redstate.com:

    “Scalise, now the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, went to a David Duke organized event. How do you not know? How do you not investigate?….How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”

    How indeed. And what a way to launch the ’15 GOP Congress.

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    But in good news for the House GOP, confessed felon Michael Grimm reportedly plans to resign. What a shock. Last week, after pleading guilty in federal court to one count of tax evasion (in the wake of a 20-count indictment), he pledged fealty to public service and vowed to keep his Staten Island seat. Which, of course, was merely sleazespeak for, “I’m quitting.”

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

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