I read with some relief news reports from Mississippi in which a Democrat activist claims responsibility for running ads invoking the KKK to help Republican Thad Cochran. While the story is a bit convenient, I was relieved that voters can once again see that Democrats are the party of racially divisive messages. My relief was tempered, however, by the acknowledgement by Henry Barbour, a fellow member of the Republican National Committee and the Republican Committeeman from Mississippi, that he and his PAC paid for other racist political pieces in the Mississippi primary runoff.
I’ve been asked why I’m involved in Mississippi. I’m not. I’m involved in Missouri, where the use of racist political ads is a common Democratic campaign trick. The most relevant was in 2004, when the George Soros-funded 527 organization, America Coming Together, distributed a flyer with an image of a black man being hosed by a white fireman. The text next to the image linked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (a Missouri Republican) with an effort to keep African American voters from the polls:
It was despicable, and Missouri Republicans quickly condemned both the lie and the language.
In Mississippi this June, Henry Barbour’s PAC funded ads by a man named Bishop Crudup with the same lie. Using images from the Civil Rights era, one Barbour flyer states that the “Tea Party intends to prevent you from voting.” The flyer was heavily distributed to black neighborhoods in clear echoes of the Soros-funded message against Republicans in 2004. The Democrats and their operatives with bylines in the media regularly accuse Republicans of voter suppression. This is the first time in my experience that a Republican has done so:
There are many reasons that the Barbour ads — and those like it — are so wrong. First, they play on the historical fears that some black people have of a time when they were prevented from voting (I should note, by Democrats). Second, they distort history, ignoring the role Republicans played on civil rights and the deep connection of the Democratic Party to the Klan, including a Supreme Court Justice appointed by FDR and a Senate Majority Leader that started out as a Klan recruiter. Democrats wish those stories would stay buried — the use of racism as a club in campaigns is too powerful for them to be bothered by the truth.
Now, in Mississippi, Henry Barbour just gave them a bigger club. Imagine Democratic ads run across the country in October that accuse Republicans of vote suppression, with full-throated defense of their use by Democrats who claim they got the idea from Mississippi Republican Henry Barbour. What defense would we have? Seven Republican senators donated large amounts to Barbour’s PAC. Does that mean they agree with Barbour that the Tea Party is involved in voter suppression? Are they prepared to answer that on Sunday morning shows when a giddy media demands they agree or disagree with Barbour’s message? What will we say? That Barbour was wrong, but we didn’t want to rock the boat because the he was a powerful fundraiser?
The Republican state parties have been engaged in outreach to communities of color for many years. In Missouri, we have sought to make it a priority to “show up,” listening to the concerns of our citizens and recruiting great conservatives who believe that freedom isn’t something you’re given by a political party. What do we say to these new recruits when they ask about racially divisive tactics? Do we stand firm to our principles and condemn them in all forms? Or do we turn our head, and admit that it’s okay to lie to black voters to secure a win?
This week, the Republican National Committee meets in Chicago. The question for we Republicans is simple: are we a party of principle that believes racial divisiveness is wrong whenever it occurs? Or are we a party of convenience that allows racial rhetoric as long as it’s done by someone with enough political connections? I don’t know the answer. I can only hope that when placed before the RNC, we don’t close ranks and pretend that this is only a state matter. I don’t believe that Republicans should risk losing the Senate in 2014 to protect Henry Barbour’s actions in Mississippi.
I have filed two resolutions for the RNC members to consider at our meeting this week. One censures Henry Barbour for his role in the race-baiting ads. The other censures any Republicans who were involved in the racist ads. I hope my fellow RNC members consider this serious matter carefully and state forcefully that we will not tolerate racist conduct by any of our members.