Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) is the third top-ranking official in the U.S. House Republican Party, serving as the Majority Whip. He's now in the midst of a controversy about speaking 12 years ago at a conference for an organization headed by former KKK leader David Duke.
I have no idea what Mr. Scalise said at the event, and neither does Mr. Scalise, he says, explaining that he has no records from back then. There's also no video or recording of the speech that's yet surfaced. And he says that he was poorly-staffed at the time, when a state representative, and therefore didn't do much vetting for his speeches, but was willing to speak to pretty much anyone as he tried to build his public profile.
To be fair, that's very possible. To be equally fair, it might be malarkey. And I'm not being facetious when I say I don't know which is true.
Mr. Scalise acknowledges speaking at the conference and knowing who David Duke is -- being a Louisiana politician at the time (or a Louisiana breathing entity), it would have been near-impossible not to know -- just not knowing apparently that the white supremacist organization he was invited to was David Duke's. And that's absolutely possible, too.
Possible and likely, of course, are two different fish. I have a hard time believing that a Louisiana state politician didn't know about an organization led by David Duke. Duke was incredibly high profile at the time, everywhere, but especially in Louisiana. A decade earlier he had been the state's Republican nominee for governor and then had run for the U.S. Senate -- both times getting huge local and even national attention for his Klan involvement. It's certainly possible that Steve Scalise didn't know that the conference was Duke's. Though the Chicago Cubs' minor league baseball affiliate did. Really.
(The Iowa Cubs, a Triple-A team, was in New Orleans at the time and found out that the hotel they were scheduled to stay in was the same one where the Duke organization's conference was being held. The team voted unanimously to move and stay elsewhere. Go, Cubs!! So, minor league baseball players coming from Iowa knew, just not Steve Scalise, a Louisiana politician.)
But even if it's all innocent, and Steve Scalise just gave a campaign speech to what he thought was some random group, there are still problems. He's on record just three years earlier talking to Roll Call, when both he and David Duke were considering running for the same House seat, and Mr. Scalise told the publication that he "embraces many of the same 'conservative' views as Duke, but is far more viable." as a candidate.
To be fair, only a few years later Steve Scalise was highly critical of David Duke -- who by then was in federal prison on a a tax conviction -- and told a New Orleans paper, the CityBusiness, "David Duke is an embarrassment to our district and his message of hate only serves to divide us." To be equally fair, there were reports that Mr. Duke was considering running for Congress in that very same district Steve Scalise was interested in.
But again, I really don't know what happened at that white supremacist conference. I honestly mean it when I say it could have been an innocent confluence. Such things do happen. I suspect that it wasn't innocent, but that's just a guess. I have no idea.
However, it's a pickle for the GOP. Republicans in the House of Representative has to vote soon on who they want their party leaders to be there. And even if Steve Scalise was so utterly naive to not know that he was invited to speak at a racist organization headed by the former GOP candidate for governor and KKK leader who he had been interested in running against for office just three years before -- the congressman is still on record as saying that he shares many of the conservative views of the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
The GOP will do what it wants. Me, I think it's a poor idea having such questions swirling around your party's highest standard bearers. But given the Republican Party's history is riling up their base against the black president, who knows?, they may consider Steve Scalise's credentials a good thing and mark in his favor...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor