(AP/Harry Cabluck/Melinda Deslatte/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The Republican rebrand's final indignity: "David Duke without the baggage" in line to lead House GOP

Remember the guy who got caught wooing white supremacists? He's now poised to be second-in-line in the House


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Elias Isquith
September 30, 2015 1:37AM (UTC)

In the wake of the GOP’s disappointing showing in 2012, the Republican National Committee released its “Growth & Opportunity Project,” a nearly 100-page-long “autopsy” intended to explain why an election many Republicans thought was theirs to lose had gone rather uniformly in the Democrats’ favor. The surprisingly frank report warned that the Republican Party was “marginalizing itself” with extreme positions on gay rights, immigration reform, and race. Without some real institutional and ideological changes, the report said, it would be “increasingly difficult for Republicans to win a presidential election in the near future.”

In the time since its release, the Republican Party has adopted around zero of the Growth & Opportunity Project’s recommendations — or at least around zero of those that don’t have to do with the internal party structure or election minutiae. On gay rights, the party has not only failed to progress, but has arguably backslid, with its recent embrace of Kim Davis as the most conspicuous example. On immigration reform, the party’s nominal presidential frontrunner is Donald “deport ‘em all” Trump. And on race, the party has not only defended the Confederate flag, but has flirted with the idea that Black Lives Matter is responsible for attacks on the police.

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And now, with Speaker of the House John Boehner’s surprise retirement, it appears that the GOP may be ready to take another decisive step away from the “rebranding” the RNC report advised. Because if Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy replaces him, as is widely expected, it would mean that the man on-deck to be his replacement is none other than Rep. Steve Scalise. That’s right: the Louisiana radical who made front-page news earlier this year for speaking to a group of white supremacists is poised to be the next majority leader of the House of Representatives.

In the GOP’s defense, it’s not at all certain that Scalise will get the gig. As the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel notes, even though Scalise, as majority whip, is technically in-line to replace McCarthy, there is a movement within the Republican caucus to promote Georgia Rep. Tom Price instead. Figures as influential as Rep. Paul Ryan and Rep. Jeb Hensarling have backed Price. And it makes sense, really, given that Price is just as conservative as the next guy without having Scalise’s liabilities. He doesn’t have a reputation for indulging white supremacists, for example; and he isn’t known for saying he’s “like [former KKK leader] David Duke without the baggage,” either.

But even if Scalise ends up being passed over for the majority leader position, it won’t be because the GOP’s leaders has an issue with his past. Back when the story first broke, they had all the opportunity in the world to distance themselves from this (allegedly) self-described accessible version of a Klansman. Instead, the leadership in the House — Boehner and McCarthy very much included — decided to keep Scalise as their number three. Scalise was “a man of high integrity and good character,” Boehner said, guilty of a simple “error in judgment.” Scalise, for his part, said he was “very disappointed” that some might “infer” that he’s bigoted just because he courted bigots.

Ultimately, whether Scalise is majority leader or majority whip a month from now doesn’t actually matter. In either scenario, he would still be a relative hair’s breadth from one of the most powerful and influential jobs in American government. And in either scenario, Donald Trump will still be a leading candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination; and every single Republican on the debate stage with him will still oppose the now-Constitutional right of same-sex marriage. So no matter how you look at it, really, the Republican Party’s rebranding effort will still be going just great.

Steve Scalise Struggles To Distance Himself From David Duke


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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