An unknown economist named Dave Brat upset Eric Cantor & the GOP ended up with a guy who speaks to white nationals in leadership #winning
— Political Line (@PoliticaILine) December 30, 2014
“The truth is that we used that room early on in the day to sponsor a town hall meeting between Steve Scalise and his constituents,” [Kenny] Knight said. “It was totally separate from the EURO conference […] Poor Steve Scalise is getting a bad rap,” Knight, a long-time aide to former KKK leader David Duke, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t think Steve Scalise would come anywhere near a white hate group.” It’s a bit of an odd statement, since Knight and his cohorts don’t consider their outfits to be hate groups, despite their stridently racist rhetoric.
About that rhetoric:
“My [EURO] speech was about the Iraq war,” Duke said, adding that thought at the time “that it was a war for Israel, the Richard Perles and the Paul Wolfowitzes of the world”—a reference to two Jewish advisers to President George W. Bush, who supported the Iraq war. Duke, a former Republican state legislator who has run unsuccessfully several times for higher office, said he did not hear Scalise’s address to the group. “He came and actually just spoke to his local constituents about one of his tax bills, and they are trying to make it out like this is a big deal,” he said. “I really believe that the Zio-globalists that control the American media, finance and government are leading us all to disaster, both African Americans, white Americans, all Americans,” he continued, returning to his central theme.
Oy. Philip Bump backs up Scalise – sort of:
[T]he idea that Scalise was pandering to a key voting constituency simply doesn’t hold up.
Scalise first won election to the state House in 1995 with more than two-thirds of the vote. In 1999, he won by a slightly tighter margin — but still by more than 30 points. In the vernacular, these races were “blow-outs.” Admittedly, the 2003 election — the one closest to Scalise’s 2002 appearance before Duke’s “European-American Unity and Rights Organization” — was different. In that, Scalise was unopposed. …
The 28,000 people who’d voted for [Duke for Congress] in 1999 probably weren’t still an organized constituency in 2002. Other members of Duke’s base from earlier, statewide races might have still been loyal to the former Klan member, but it seems hard to believe that Scalise would have considered this an essential part of his electoral considerations. Far more likely, as the Post reported Tuesday, is the idea that Scalise was asked by an apparent friend [Knight] to make an appearance.
Betsy Woodruff digs deeper:
“[Scalise] was just up there for a few minutes, maybe 10, 15 at the most, and it was in the morning,” [Barbara Noble, Knight’s then-girlfriend], said. Noble said that there was no signage, banners, or mention of the EURO conference at the civic association event and that Scalise left immediately after giving his talk.
There’s total consensus on the right and left that Scalise displayed miserable judgment by associating himself with Knight, an ally of the former KKK leader. But Knight’s and Noble’s accounts cast doubt on an emerging narrative: that, as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Josh Schwerin told Politico, the Louisiana Republican “chose to cheerlead for a group of KKK members and neo-Nazis at a white supremacist rally.” If Knight and Noble are right, then the truth is much less theatrical than some make it sound.
But Beutler isn’t buying the whip’s defense:
Let’s assume that Scalise is telling the truth—that poor staffing explains his participation, and that he rushed in and out of the event too quickly to realize what was up, or that he was led in to the hotel conference center blindfolded, ears plugged, and fled the scene the moment his remarks concluded. There’s a problem with southern Republican politics if an up-and-coming star stumbles heedless into a white supremacist convention in the course of his constituent outreach, and then doesn’t notice the mistake for more than a decade.
Conservatives have compared the Scalise revelation unfavorably to Chris McDaniel’s neo-confederate sympathies, which establishment Republicans happily deployed against him when he was poised to topple an incumbent senator in Mississippi; and to the Klan-curious comments that got Trent Lott, another Mississippian, ousted from Senate leadership in 2001. But whether Scalise’s transgressions are worse than McDaniel’s and Lott’s is a subjective and unnecessary question. The appropriate question, whether Scalise stays or goes, is, Why does this kind of thing happen at all?
Vinik thinks it’s a “tough call” whether to strip Scalise of his #3 position:
Given that Scalise doesn’t have a record of racist comments or a history of attending gatherings with white nationalists, I, like [Ezra] Klein, am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that this was just an honest mistake. … But Klein makes a strong argument that Scalise’s speech, even if it was an honest mistake, is representative of compromises he had to make to win elections in Louisiana. He also twice voted against making MLK day a state holiday, first in 1999 and second in 2004. The latter passed by a 90-6 vote. (Scalise’s office did not return a request for comment on whether he would still vote the same way today.)
Michael Brendan Doughtery, in contrast, considers dropping Scalise a “no-brainer”:
For the good of the party and the country, Republicans need to reach out to America’s oldest minority, the group whose emancipation was a motivation for many of the GOP’s founders. Black voters, just as much as white exurban voters, deserve competition for their vote, in the cities just as much as in the South. If a Republican majority whip was discovered to have once spoken to a group created by Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, he’d be dropped from leadership before Richard Land could hit up a friend on speed dial. Keeping Scalise in leadership confirms that the GOP doesn’t care about its perception among black voters.
Indeed, Boehner and his #2 are standing by their #3.