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“Long Read; The GOP’s Offensive Defense”: The Scalise Scandal Is Like A Grain Of Sand On A Very Big Beach

The firestorm over House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s 2002 decision to speak at a white supremacists’ conference might have skipped a news cycle or two over the New Year’s holiday, but it’s not going away anytime soon.

On Monday, the White House got into the act during press secretary Josh Earnest’s daily briefing. Though he said his boss, President Barack Obama, is mum on whether Republicans should kick the Louisiana congressman to the curb, Earnest played up Scalise’s own words and the GOP leadership’s decision to give him rank:

“[Obama] believes it is their decision to make. But there’s no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are. Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage, so it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.”

Over the weekend, however, one new lawmaker simultaneously defended Scalise and helped the GOP subtly push back against its image as a party dominated by white men, despite evidence to the contrary. But incoming Rep. Mia Love of Utah – the Republicans’ first African-American woman elected to the House, and a woman The Washington Post declared is the party’s “racial conscience” – may have done more to remind people of the GOP’s problems than help them forget Scalise.

Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson argues that Love’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week” made her Scalise’s most powerful defender; she swatted down calls for his dismissal from leadership and vouched for his character. Her rejection of accusations that Scalise is a racist, Henderson writes, “is an argument that tends to carry more weight when it’s made by a minority, which gets at why Love will continue to be so important to the GOP, beyond whatever day-to-day work she does for her Utah constituents.” She goes on:

[Love] is Exhibit No. 1 for Republicans’ claim to be a diverse party at the federal level, a role that makes her the new racial conscience of her party – along with Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) and perhaps Rep.-elect Will Hurd (Tex.), another newly elected black Republican. (Neither of them have commented on Scalise so far).

But there are also limits to how helpful she might be. So far, she has been unwilling to directly address the perception problem that many of her fellow Republicans are raising in discussions about Scalise.

Their worry is not so much about proving whether or not Scalise is a racist, but that the GOP’s brand might take a further hit because of Scalise’s actions more than a decade ago. Colin Powell, for instance, in the past has talked about the “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party” – a strain not checked enough by party leaders, according to Powell. (He has also not commented on the Scalise incident).

Henderson’s right: Republicans aren’t engaging in a debate on whether Scalise is a good legislator and fit to serve. House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in the chamber, is standing solidly behind Scalise, which for most purposes means his majority whip isn’t going anywhere – unless, of course, some more race stuff surfaces in the next few weeks.

What’s interesting about Henderson’s article, however, is how it indicates the GOP is really concerned about the matter, and how that means we’re likely to see more of Love, a heretofore unknown freshman:

Republicans, or at least the ones who put together the Republican National Committee’s Growth and Opportunity Project memo, are very aware of their brand problems among minorities.

“Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.”

Love’s best answer for this brand problem – described in very stark terms – seems to be simply moving on and trusting that Scalise had no ill intentions. And when it comes to earning that trust, Love clearly has a role to play.

The project memo not surprisingly gives the GOP the benefit of the doubt by declaring that minorities wrongly think that Republicans hate them. There’s plenty of evidence that African-American and Latino hostility toward Republicans stems from the party’s policies, stated and otherwise – its positions on immigration, affirmative action and voting rights come immediately to mind – and not just its demographics.

Henderson concludes:

But how do you convince minorities that they are wrong about Republicans, with Scalise and his associates as the most recent evidence? That’s a much harder problem to solve, with Love’s presence and voice serving as a very small part.

That – given that the GOP leadership is almost exclusively white and male, and its constituency is older and white – is perhaps the greater issue. Putting Love in front of the cameras smacks of tokenism, and that tends to remind minorities of the GOP’s much deeper problems, like the mythical Southern strategy, or maybe the Shelby County vs. Holder case.

When it comes to its problems with minority voters, the Scalise scandal (“Klangate,” maybe? “White Wash”?), seems like a grain of sand on a very big beach.


By: Joseph P. Williams, Washington Whispers, U. S, News and World Report, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2015 - Posted by | GOP, Republicans, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , ,

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