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Judging candidates by the company they keep

A right-wing pastor held a rally in Iowa, arguing that the Bible requires the death penalty for homosexuality. Three GOP presidential candidates were there.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas. (Photo by Stewart F. House/Getty)
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks onto the stage to participate in the North Texas Presidential Forum at Prestonwood Baptist Church Oct. 18, 2015 in Plano, Texas.
But Swanson nevertheless has a large enough following that he hosted a "National Religious Liberties Conference" in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was joined by three prominent Republican presidential candidates.
Now, before we get to those White House hopefuls, it's worth appreciating the kind of message Swanson likes to disseminate. Rachel noted on the show last night some of his more colorful remarks at his Iowa gathering.

"There are families whose -- we're talking Christian families, pastors' families, elders' families in good godly churches -- their sons are rebelling, hanging out with homosexuals and getting married. And the parents are invited. "What would you do if that was the case? Here's what I would do. Sack cloth and ashes at the entrance to the church. And I'd sit in cow manure and I'd spread it all over my body. That's what I'd do.  And I'm not kidding. I'm not laughing. I'm grieving. I'm mourning. I'm pointing out the problem! "It's not a gay time! These are the people with the sores, the gaping sores. The sores that are pusy and gross and people are coming in and carving happy faces on pusy sores. That's not a nice thing to do. Don't you dare carve happy faces on open, pusy sores. Don't you ever do that.... America needs to hear the message. We are messed up."

Well, some of us more than others, I'm afraid.
Swanson went on to make his case, with unnerving zeal, that Scripture demands the death penalty for homosexuality.
All of which brings us back to the national GOP candidates.
Now, as a rule, presidential campaigns make at least some effort to keep radical extremists at arms' length. In Republican politics, it's one thing to associate with activists who oppose gay rights; it's something else to associate with a pastor who talks openly about executing gay people because of their sexual orientation.
Indeed, the organizers of the "National Religious Liberties Conference" extended invitations to 14 presidential campaigns in advance of the weekend's gathering. Eleven of them declined, probably because of Swanson's record of over-the-top extremism.
And yet, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal accepted their invitations, shared a stage with Swanson, and made their pitch to over 1,700 event attendees.
Or as Rachel put it last night:

"What I just showed you there, those are not like the 'kill-the-gays' ravings of the guy who was hosting this event from some time in his past. This is not something that we dug up that he said a long time ago that maybe these presidential candidates didn't know about. "This was actually the host of the event speaking this weekend. This was him speaking this weekend at the event where these three Republican presidential candidates were also present and speaking with him."

On CNN, the day before the event, Cruz was specifically asked about the propriety of paling around with a guy like Swanson. "I don't know what this gentleman has said and what he hasn't said," Cruz replied.
That's hard to believe -- the Cruz campaign has access to Google -- but even if it were true, the senator certainly knew what this "gentleman" said when Cruz was backstage, waiting to join Swanson before attendees.
Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal had a first-hand opportunity to hear Swanson's hateful rhetoric, at which point they could have simply left. They didn't. They accepted Swanson's invitation and then joined him after Swanson spoke at length about his kill-the-gays worldview.
Are we to judge the presidential hopefuls by the company they keep?