By Jonathan Easley - 06/22/15 03:58 PM EDT
The re-emergence of the Confederate flag as a political issue has been a test for the GOP presidential field, with candidates forced to quickly reassess whether they support flying the symbol on South Carolina’s capitol grounds.
The issue is particularly important given South Carolina’s primary, which can have an outsized role in the GOP nominating contests. Republicans are averse to taking positions that could offend the Palmetto State’s electorate.
So did former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who argued the flag belonged in a museum, not at the state capitol.
Other Republican candidates haven’t been as forceful, and at least one has shifted his position.
Here’s a look at where all of the candidates stand:
Bush, seen by many as the front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination, took an early stand against the Confederate flag.
Pointing to his time as Florida’s governor, when the Confederate flag was removed from the capitol grounds in Tallahassee, Bush said last week he was “confident” lawmakers in South Carolina “will do the right thing” and remove the flag from their capitol grounds as well.
“In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged,” he said.
Walker, who is leading the GOP field in polls of Iowa voters, had declined to take a stance on the issue.
On Monday, after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said she would seek to have the flag removed, Walker tweeted his support.
“I am glad @nikkihaley is calling for the Confederate flag to come down,” he tweeted. “I support her decision.”
A source close to Walker said he was in South Carolina this weekend meeting with local community leaders, and he declined to weigh in on the issue earlier so as not to distract from the grieving families.
Rubio similarly declined to take a stance on the issue, arguing that it’s a matter for state legislators to hash out.
“Ultimately the people of South Carolina will make the right decision for South Carolina, and I believe in their capacity to make that decision,” Rubio told reporters in Miami over the weekend. “The next president of the United States will not make that decision.”
In a statement on Monday, Rubio cheered Haley for leading on the issue but still declined to take a side.
“I applaud Governor Haley for her leadership at this difficult time,” Rubio said. “I appreciate and respect her statement that ‘This is South Carolina’s statehouse, it is South Carolina’s historic moment, and this will be South Carolina’s decision.’ I have no doubt that given how the people of South Carolina have dealt with this tragedy so far, they will continue to inspire the nation with their courage, compassion and unity.”
Carson, the only African-American in the Republican presidential field, said on Fox News that he believes the flag can be “inflammatory” but stopped short of calling for its removal.
“The Confederate flag causes a lot of people angst, and they are not able to see beyond that,” Carson told Fox News. “I think the people of South Carolina should sit down and have an intelligent discussion about what can they use that captures their heritage, captures the heritage of America and allows them to coexist in peace.”
The former Arkansas governor — whose path to the White House depends on winning over conservative GOP voters — ducked the issue in a Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
He said the GOP presidential hopefuls don’t need to “weigh in on every little issue in all 50 states.”
“I still feel like it’s not an issue for a person running for president,“ Huckabee said. “For those of us running for president, everyone’s being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.”
The Paul campaign said the libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator has no comment at this time.
The Texas senator has said he respects both sides of the debate and argued outsiders should stay out of it.
“The last thing they need is people from outside of the state coming in and dictating how they should resolve it,” he told The Associated Press in a statement.
He said he found merit in those who view the flag as a symbol of “racial oppression and a history of slavery” and in those who “want to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors and the traditions of their states.”
The New Jersey governor has not publicly weighed in on the issue, and his political team did not return a request for comment.
Perry had been critical of the state’s decision to fly the flag on capitol grounds, calling it divisive, but he had stopped short of saying it should be removed.
On Monday, after Haley said she would seek to have the flag removed, Perry lauded the decision. He said removing the flag “honors the people of Charleston and the families of the victims of last week’s horrific hate crime.”
“Removing the flag is an act of healing and unity that allows us to find a shared purpose based on the values that unify us,” Perry said.
The Trump campaign declined to comment.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, entered the debate early and forcefully last week, declaring the flag a “symbol of racial hatred” that should be removed to honor the memories of those who were killed.
Fiorina told reporters in Washington over the weekend she agrees with Romney but wouldn’t presume to tell the people in South Carolina what they should do.
“Personally I do agree with him,” she said. “I think it is up to the people of South Carolina, however.”
Like Huckabee, Santorum declined to take a position on the issue, saying it’s not a matter that federal candidates have authority over or should be weighing in on.
“I take the position that the federal government really has no role in determining what the states are going to do,” Santorum said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I don’t think the federal government or federal candidates should be making decisions on everything and opining on everything,” he said.
“This is up to the people of South Carolina to decide,” Kasich said in a statement to The Hill. “But if I were a citizen of South Carolina I’d be for taking it down.”
Graham, the only presidential candidate from South Carolina, initially defended the compromise the state’s legislature struck in 2000 to remove a larger flag from the State House dome but to keep a smaller flag flying on the grounds.
“It works here,” he told CNN last week.
But on Monday, Graham reversed course, saying he’d join Haley in calling for the flag’s removal to a museum.
The Louisiana governor declined to take a position on the issue, framing it as a matter of state’s rights.
“Look, we’ll let the states decide that,” he told ABC News. “But again, just like with the gun issue, let’s have that debate at the right time. I mean, right now, we should all be in mourning.”
This story was last updated at 7.30 p.m.