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Steve Scalise’s Lame Excuse

The Washington Post reports that in 2002, Rep. Steve Scalise, then a Louisiana GOP lawmaker and now the third-ranking Republican in the US House, spoke to a David Duke-led group’s conference in New Orleans. Excerpt:

Other Scalise allies, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, argued that Scalise was poorly staffed during the period, when he was busy touring the state promoting his efforts to curb state spending.

“Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints,” [Scalise spokeswoman Moira] Bagley said. “In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families.”

More:

Scalise’s defense — that he was not fully cognizant of the group’s leanings and the nature of the meeting — contrasts with the local press coverage generated by the Duke-coordinated conclave that spring.

The Gambit Weekly, an alternative publication in New Orleans, wrote days before the conference that the hotel distanced itself from Duke’s group and expressed its discomfort.

I find it completely unbelievable that Scalise did not know that was a David Duke event. Check out the post from Lamar White Jr., the Louisiana political blogger who broke the news. It seems clear that event organizers were up front with the fact that David Duke was president of their organization, and that he was going to be videoconferenced in from Europe.

I think it is possible that Scalise didn’t know what he was getting into when he agreed to appear at this thing, but once you get there and realize that you are at a David Duke event, you leave. Period. There is no excuse for staying there — and it’s impossible to believe that Scalise remained ignorant of Duke’s sponsorship of the event until after he left. Did he send out a press release repudiating the group and saying he had been hoodwinked into speaking there? Doesn’t seem like it.

Do I think Scalise is a white supremacist? No, not at all. But he was insufficiently disgusted by associating with the most notorious racist and anti-Semite in the country. I don’t see how he stays in GOP leadership with this on his record.

UPDATE: My guess, and it’s only that, is that Scalise didn’t think he had much to worry about by speaking to that group. After all, he was at the time a white Republican representing the same part of the Greater New Orleans area that David Duke comes from. Duke represented the suburb of Metairie in the Louisiana House. I’m not sure which suburban enclave Scalise calls home, but he graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie. The 2002 conference was in Metairie. If you didn’t foresee a political career for yourself beyond the Louisiana House, it’s conceivable that you wouldn’t figure you had a lot to lose by speaking to a group like that.

UPDATE.2: Ryan Booth, who used to work for the Louisiana GOP says:

Scalise was so hungry then, so driven. In 2004, I accompanied Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger Villere when he asked Scalise not to run for Congress that year.

Scalise had been waiting for his chance, and when then-congressman David Vitter announced for the Senate race, Scalise had begun campaigning with an incredible intensity. I have no doubt that he spoke to Duke’s group simply because he would speak to anyone who would listen to him. He had gotten elected to the legislature, after all, by basically knocking on every door in the district. I have never heard or seen a harder-working campaigner than Steve Scalise.

But his campaign that year had suffered a big blow with Bobby Jindal’s decision to seek the seat. If Scalise stayed in the race, he would lose. But Scalise didn’t want to get out.

So Roger went to talk with him and brought me along. I’ll never forget how pained he was when Roger asked him to get out of the race. It hurt him very deeply, even though he knew Roger was right that Jindal wouldn’t stay in Congress for long.

That sounds about right, and very human. On reflection, I actually hope that Scalise holds on to his job. Somebody posted something the other day about outrage fatigue. I’m feeling it. Scalise had no business talking to those people. He knows that, and I believe it’s genuine. From what Ryan says, and I believe him, Scalise let his ambition get in the way of his judgment back then. If I thought he was really a racist or an anti-Semite, I would feel much differently about it.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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