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'Big lie' from Republican Steve Scalise is in service to white grievance politics

Before Jan. 6 pretending Trump won was spineless. Doing so after is abominable.
Image: Steve Scalise
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks at the House GOP news conference after the House Republicans' meeting in the Capitol on Sept. 28.Bill Clark / AP Images

On Sunday, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked House Minority Whip Steve Scalise a simple question: “Do you think the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump?”

It shouldn’t have taken Scalise more than a fraction of a second to respond.

To the reasonable person, the correct answer has two letters. To those who are either unmoored from reality or are unabashed liars, the answer has three. It shouldn’t have taken Scalise more than a fraction of a second to respond. But in his vain attempt to find a piece of solid ground between a yes and a no, he responded and responded and responded for more than two minutes, slipping out of every attempt Wallace made to force him into a definitive answer.

Scalise went on and on about how the election was problematic because some states operated under rules that were put in place by the courts and not those states’ legislatures. He didn’t mention that Covid-19 emergency election rules were in place in his own state and that they were imposed by a federal judge who ruled that the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature’s refusal to accommodate voters at risk of serious illness or death from Covid “is likely unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on Plaintiffs’ right to vote.”

He also forgot to mention that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose building might as well be inscribed with “Abandon all hope, ye liberals who enter here,” declined a post-election request by the state’s Republican leaders to bar federal judges from making similar future rulings.

He was pointed, though, when he defended the changes — otherwise known as election suppression efforts — that Republicans have been implementing since they lost last year. “When you see states like Georgia cleaning up the mess and people calling that Jim Crow law, that’s a flat-out lie.”

Scalise must surely hate that journalists have such long memories. He once described himself — to a reporter, no less — as being “like David Duke without the baggage,” and in 2014, when a Louisiana journalist broke the news that Scalise, more than a decade earlier, had spoken to a whites rights organization created by Duke at an event organized by Duke’s campaign manager and political adviser, the organizer told The Washington Post that “Steve knew who I was, but I don’t think he held it against me.”

In response to the news that he had spoken to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, or EURO, in 2002, Scalise said, “It was a mistake I regret, and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”

Ask yourself whether you trust a politician who doesn’t hold a David Duke affiliation against a guy to judge how much racism is or isn’t in Georgia’s new election law. Ask yourself whether a politician or a party whose insinuations (or outright lies) that Donald Trump had a second term stolen from him and who implicate majority Black precincts and cities in that theft ought to have any input at all in what’s fair — or in what our election laws should be.

The same day Scalise was running out the clock by not answering Wallace, The New York Times reported that Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden, as a broadcaster for ESPN 10 years ago, sent an email to the president of the NFL franchise in Washington, which included his opinion that DeMaurice Smith, the Black man who serves as executive director of the NFL players’ union, is dimwitted and has lips the size of car tires.

Gruden swore it was a one-off, something uncharacteristic of him, but c’mon, man, nobody dips into the bucket of darky jokes just once. Gruden had defenders who were willing to tell themselves that his offense didn’t warrant his removal. Then, the next day brought the news that he had sent email messages with equally gross comments about women and gay people and that he had referred to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell using a homophobic slur. And Gruden resigned. More likely he got resigned.

Does a politician dip into the well of white grievance politics just once? Obviously not.

In 2014, Scalise was the majority whip, and instead of tossing him for cozying up to racists, then-House Speaker John Boehner described him as “a man of high integrity and good character,” which implied that he accepted that Scalise’s EURO address was a harmless political boo-boo.

Does a politician dip into the well of white grievance politics just once? Obviously not. Because the same politician who addressed a group that believes white people need to organize for the protection of their rights is the same politician who is now standing with those claiming that Black people illegally blocked their candidate from a rightful second term. When Scalise won’t tell them that their candidate lost fair and square, when he won’t tell them that voters for Biden greatly exceeded voters for Trump, he’s doing what he has historically done: acting as if no support is bad support and refusing to contradict the lies.

Before Jan. 6, pretending that Trump won was spineless. Doing so after a Trump cult invaded the U.S. Capitol in a deadly act of insurrection is abominable.

In response to the “big lie” that members of Scalise’s party keep telling, Wallace asked Scalise, “Do you think that hurts, undermines, American democracy?”

Scalise didn’t answer, but of course it does. But what does that matter to him? If Scalise doesn’t help his party undermine democracy, then how will his party ever win big again?