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Scalise, David Duke and the stain on the Republican Party

Buried in the headlines about the new Congress, and among the furious efforts of the Republican leadership’s attempt to change the subject, was the reprehensible case of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). As you might have heard, Scalise has now admitted to giving a speech earlier in his political career to a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Trolling for votes in Louisiana, Scalise thought it was a good idea to speak to one of the most vile hate groups in America.

Duke ran for several elections, and the wise people of Louisiana largely rejected this neo-Nazi, and he only won a seat to the state legislature in 1989 by fewer than 300 votes. But it seems that the radical right vote was potent enough that Scalise sought it out as part of his electoral coalition, which would eventually elevate him to a senior leadership post in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

{mosads}I am trying to imagine a scenario in which a Democrat admits to having sought votes among violent communists at their get-together, an admission that would consequently provoke the full-throated support of the Democratic leadership. It just would not would happen. The radical left was exiled from the Democratic Party decades ago.

And that is one of the most striking differences between the parties. While radicals with Democratic leanings still inhabit the fringes of politics, none are elected to Congress or would remotely be considered for a party leadership post.

But in the Republican Party of 2015, a Scalise with the brand of David Duke tattooed on his forehead is protected by the warm embrace of Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) leadership team and the rest of the Republican Caucus. No Republican has come out demanding his resignation, and Fox News and other right-wing allies of the GOP have also failed to question the morality of a man who sits down with a white supremacist group.

It might seem easy to say that Republicans are racists as a whole. That is simply not the case. But it would also be wrong to make the claim that there is no room for racists in today’s Republican Party — even at the highest levels of the congressional leadership. Scalise is a walking, breathing example of that.

By now, many in the political establishment and the media have become inured to the racist rants of the likes of Iowa Rep. Steve King (R). His anti-Hispanic tirades — like his gem saying that immigrants crossing the border are Ebola carriers allied with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in a plan to decapitate Americans — were a hot topic for one brief news cycle and then dropped into the media void, as if his scurrilous accusation against immigrants were just part of the normal exchange of political discourse.

Today’s political media have assumed a benign-neglect attitude when it comes to racialist politicians and their now easily discoverable grotesque statements and actions. With social media policing the past of the political-industrial complex, no politico is safe from the discovery of some horrible past (or present) cross into the dark weltanschauung of 19th-century neo-Confederate sentiments.

While 2013’s protests in front of the White House, with people brandishing racist symbols and placards that would have been part of a 20th-century Deep South lynching, are not representative of anyone except those very people who decided to take their deep hatred out for a walk at America’s most famous address, the stark fact of the GOP’s tolerance for such extremism stands.

The now-famous picture of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) joining that Tea Party protest in the National Mall is an impactful symbol of this Republican tolerance for racialist politics.

Where were the outcries from John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)? Or even the stentorian denunciations of mainstream Republicans like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)? Clearly neither McCain nor Graham would get close to the protest. But their silence speaks to a profound problem for Republicans.

As the case has been made by some GOP strategists, Republicans’ best chance to elect a GOP president in 2016 is to motivate an even larger segment of the white vote to reject the diverse Democratic coalition and fight for the restoration of some imaginary white men’s utopia from the nebulous past.

And so we come full circle to Scalise and his non-accountability for seeking votes from white supremacists earlier in his career. While he may regret that his speech was discovered, it must come as no small comfort to know that he has once again firmly attached himself to the very far right vote that populates the extreme wing of the GOP — seemingly at no political cost to himself or the GOP leadership.

Thanks to the strain of Tea Party extremism that has conquered the Republican Party, the Ku Klux Klan vote is safely in the hands of the GOP — and Scalise will no doubt dog-whistle it to come forth in his next election.

Yet if Republicans truly rejected racialist politics — they would demand his immediate resignation.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst on television, radio and in print. He is the host and managing editor of “The Fernando Espuelas Show,” a daily political talk show syndicated nationally by the Univision America Network. Contact him at and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.

Tags David Duke Republican Party Steve King Steve Scalise

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