I hereby replace, for now, the earlier published contention that Mississippi’s Republican National Committeeman Henry Barbour “prevaricated” about his role in race-baiting ads in the June U.S. Senate runoff in his state — and I apologize for the assertion being published so definitively, which was unintentional — and I instead conclude that Barbour quite obviously “misled” the public and his fellow RNC members about his role.

I still think the RNC should censure Henry Barbour. I also think losing challenger Chris McDaniel should, well, just go away.

If this isn’t wishing pox on both their houses, maybe it’s just wishing a single pock on each.

This is all very complicated stuff. Let’s slowly unpack it. We’ll take the Barbour side first… but then, if you bear with me, you’ll see plenty of criticisms of McDaniel as well.

First, though, the lesson (with apologies for hijacking a famous, similar line from Chief Justice John Roberts): The way to end race-baiting appeals is to stop making appeals on the basis of race.

That said, this controversy stems from the bitter and nasty Senate race between McDaniel and incumbent Thad Cochran. Barbour says McDaniel, his team, and national tea party leader Jenny Beth Martin all race-baited, not explicitly but via code words, by (among other things) discouraging traditionally Democratic voters from participating in the June 24 Republican runoff. In that light, he says that Cochran supporters were fully justified in calling out the McDaniel side while they, the Cochranites, encouraged black voters especially to vote for Cochran.

A number of ads and robocalls did just that — some of them more explicitly and inflammatorily (is that a word?) than others.

In several very courteous phone calls to me, Barbour strongly disassociated himself from all involvement in the most racially inflammatory of the pro-Cochran ads, while accepting responsibility and defending the content of some others that made explicit, but less demagogic, appeals based on race. A liberal activist came out earlier this week, with Barbour’s encouragement, and claimed responsibility for the ads while saying Barbour had nothing to do with it.

A story Tuesday in Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger casts doubt on those denials, sort of, by repeating claims that Democratic operative Greg Brand, who is a close associate of a man named Pete Perry, who in turn was paid by Barbour’s PAC (sorry for the follow-the-dots requirement), actually paid for the worst of the ads (although Brand denies it). This is all sort of a three-degrees of separation thing, so it doesn’t come close to proving Barbour a liar — even though there are many thematic parallels between the messages in the ads and robocalls Barbour does claim responsibility for and the ones he denies.

That said, though, for sake of my argument, we will assume that Barbour is telling the truth about what he did and didn’t do. Sometimes people do things to which others object, but are quite up-front about doing so. In my phone conversations, Barbour sounded quite candid (and also gentlemanly), so unless and until proved otherwise, we should all take him at his word.

Here’s the thing, though: Even the ads he defends are seriously objectionable. These radio ads, which Barbour repeatedly defended, use “tea party” as a perjorative, in the specific context of causing a “loss” for “race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups,” and say that this “tea party effort” would “roll back the hand of time” (again, in a racial context). Also, robo-calls for which Barbour paid — he acknowledges payment, but said he did not review the text in advance and wishes the text had not gone so far — hits McDaniel and the tea party thusly: “It’s time to take a stand and say no to the tea party. No to their obstruction, no to their disrespectful treatment of the first African-American president.”

Perhaps even worse, the same group that did the Barbour-financed radio ads also produced a flyer that Barbour does not denounce as being out of bounds, but which track the same ideas that the tea party — as a whole, generically, mind you, not just one or two tea party leaders — is not just racist, but is trying to deny blacks in particular, Jim Crow-like, the the right to vote. “Don’t let Tea Party representatives discourage you from voting,” the flyer, distributed only in black neighborhoods, says. “Send the Tea Party a message.” On the back, it says: “No citizen can afford the price of hatred and bigotry.”

These things which Barbour’s PAC definitively paid for are different only in degree, but not in kind, from the radio ads associating the McDaniel team with the KKK and specifically calling tea partiers “racist.”

Again, to repeat my argument from my earlier column on the subject, it is one thing (and possibly also unfair) to accuse a specific person with a race-baiting agenda — IF, IF, IF you back up your accusation with specific facts — but when one generically brands a whole group of people, without proof, it’s a horrible thing. When the group you are maligning, or paying to have others malign, is also the group of good, everyday, grassroots Americans who love their country and who also, as it happens, provides the bulk of the volunteer backbone and legwork for campaigns on your general side of the ideological spectrum… well, then, it’s just a disgusting and despicable thing to do. How can we complain about the Left maligning tea partiers (and conservatives in general) as racists when those on our own (semi-)side of the defense do the same? And if the one doing is actually a member of the Republican National Committee, it’s even worse.

Now, we get to what I first called (with unfortunately garbled modifiers,for which I apologize) the “prevarications” on Barbour’s part. His contention is that when he denied involvement with radio ads, he intended to specifically be referring to the ones reported in a Daily Mail story that were the most overtly, demagogically race-baiting. As I said, until proved otherwise, I will accept that contention, and not question Barbour’s candor on it. But here’s the problem: In one of his messages to fellow RNC members, Barbour not only failed to make that distinction, but he went even farther by disassociating himself from anything like the race-baiting of the most horrid ads. Here’s what he wrote, with my emphases in Italics: “Let me be clear, I disagree with the messages conveyed in those efforts.  I think these types of messages and the robocalls in question were deplorable.  For one more time, I had nothing to do with them and I do not know who or what entity did.  End of story.”

But it’s splitting a rather thin hair for him to try to argue that the ads he did pay for were not the “types” of messages (i.e., Tea Party=racists) in question. And he now acknowledges that his money did help finance the robo-call about the tea party disrespecting an African-American president (even if he says he did not know the text of the call would go that far). Either way, he was playing with fire — and fire of a specifically inflammatory kind, because anytime someone raises questions of racism or racial denial of voting rights, especially in the South, one is lighting a match that could lead to conflagration. It is inexcusable to do so, or at least to do so without a very specific, fact-based accusation. (If Barbour had proof, for instance, that McDaniel spoke at a Klan rally and praised the Klan by name, well, of course, he would be entirely justified in raising racial fears.) When one does so by playing on false, media-Left-driven portrayals of one’s own activists, the person doing it has gone way beyond the pale (no pun intended). And when the person involved is actually a member of the party’s national committee, then that person should publicly apologize, at the very least, and should at least be considered for censure.

….

Now, here is where I give Barbour a half of a semi-demi-hemi pass. I’ve been in plenty of campaigns. I know it is possible to lose one’s perspective. Barbour says he was sure he detected coded race-baiting in statements from the McDaniel side and from tea party leader Jenny Beth Martin. He said that when McDaniel and allies publicly argued, pre-election, against “Democratic” voters, it was code for trying to keep blacks from voting. I think that’s absurd. I know plenty of conservatives who are baffled by the whole concept of an “open” primary allowing “crossover” votes, by those ordinarily Democratic, in a GOP primary (and vice versa). As a Reaganite, I don’t agree with them; Reagan himself encouraged crossover voting. But that doesn’t make the argument racial. It’s philosophical/ideological, but not necessarily racial. I think it is particularly unfair to Jenny Beth Martin for Barbour to make that argument against her.

More important, even if this were the case, two wrongs don’t make a right. If Barbour had a problem with McDaniel or Martin, he should have called them out individually, not helped label all ordinary tea partiers as racist. (I actually don’t think he intended to affix that label to all tea partiers, but I also know that he fails to make much distinction, in conversation, between national tea party groups or leaders,on one hand, and the tea party as a whole, on the other. That failure to make a distinction is careless, and quite damaging — even if his allegations about the leaders are true, which I don’t think they are.)

Still, all that said, I think McDaniel personally has left himself open to doubts about his attitudes on race. Fair or not, those questions have dogged him for quite some time. And when I myself saw his non-concession speech on runoff election night, his tone and words and suddenly exaggerated southern accent struck me quite specifically as being a none-too-subtle call to arms in the Confederate tradition — with all the unfortunately racial connotations associated, fairly or unfairly, with it. They made me cringe. If Barbour was reacting to that sort of thing all along, then I understand his frustration. But it doesn’t excuse the depth of Barbour’s descent into the same tar pit.

….

Now, here’s why I wish McDaniel would just go away. First, it is just a fact, a matter of record, that McDaniel personally lied about Cochran’s record, and that his supporters repeatedly did so as well. This is especially true with regard to “amnesty,” where Cochran has perhaps the longest ANTI-amnesty record of anybody in either house of Congress. The campaign also fudged quite seriously when accusing Cochran of voting for taxpayer funding of abortion. That, combined with other tawdry tactics from McDaniel and his campaign or supporters (no need to go into all of them), combined with a history of rather “out there” remarks, make McDaniel hardly an exemplar for the national conservative movement.

But it gets even worse. With his announcement yesterday of the specifics of his election challenge, in which he asks to be declared the victor despite the announced vote totals, McDaniel pushed legal concepts to the point of absurdity and, far worse, played almost as badly in the matter of race as the Barbour ads did.

On the law, McDaniel did identify a number of obvious irregularities, of the sort that ought to be corrected. But he advanced the goofy argument that somewhere between 479 and 1,012 allegedly improper votes in one county should be used to jettison every single vote tabulated in that county, meaning 25,361 of them… and that, with that entire county thrown out, the new totals would more than make up Cochran’s 7,667-vote margin of victory. This is, to put it kindly, bonkers. One cannot throw out more than 24,000 good votes in order to get rid of 1,000 allegedly bad ones, but while keeping all the other votes statewide. Yet not only does McDaniel cite these and other alleged (and some already proven) irregularities to demand a new election, but he actually demands to be named the victor — as if it is possible to be sure for whom all the “illegal” votes were cast.

This is an affront to both the law and to right reason.

But that’s not the worst of it. What’s worse is the racial aspect of his legal pleading. At first it seemed perhaps just a low-level staff mistake when the “first draft” of a press release announcing McDaniel’s official challenge to the election results mentioned his specific objections to “black Democratic votes” being cast in the election. If that’s really what McDaniel’s team meant, it would be awful. Even if letting Democrats vote in a Republican primary is objectionable, why, pray tell, does it make a shred of difference if those Democratic votes are from blacks or from whites? When the final press release dropped the specific references to black voters, McDaniel’s team had at least a veneer of cover for what seemed an abrasively race-conscious complaint — and, in dropping the reference, in effect acknowledged that it was inflammatory.

But then I actually read the official “complaint of election contest” McDaniel filed with the state executive committee of the Mississippi Republican Party. It turns out that the original draft of the press release was accurate. The legal filing repeatedly and specifically makes the argument that black voters in particular should be suspect, with regard to allegedly illegal “crossover” voting. To quote just one passage from the complaint:

Based on scientific, reliable methodology, a comparative analysis of county-by-county increases [in votes cast from the first primary to the runoff] indicates that Cochran’s vote increases were correlated to the percentage of blacks that live in each county. A regression analysis of county vote results from both the June 3 and June 24 elections with the percentage of blacks and non-blacks who make up each county’s population shows that, without the predominantly Democratic voter participation in the Republican runoff, Cochran would have lost the runoff election by about 25,000 votes.

Earlier, the filing had noted, “That the African-American community votes predominantly Democrat is a self-assessment [from specific leading Mississipp blacks themselves]…. The ten counties where Cochran improve most (from the June 3 primary to the June 24 runoff) were those where blacks make up 69 percent of the population.”

Lord almighty!

This is outrageous. Mississippi state law allows for anybody to vote in the runoff who hasn’t voted in the other party’s original primary — or who doesn’t “intend” to vote for the nominee in the general election. But the latter restriction is entirely unprovable and unenforceable, and probably unconstitutional. Only the former restriction is actionable — and it matters not, by state law or even really by party rules rightly understood, if traditionally Democratic voters cross over in one Republican primary, as long as they haven’t voted in the same election cycle on the Democratic side. And with the former restriction, as with most American law, race makes not a single difference. Nor should it. To harp on this racial aspect of the electorate, in such an election contest, is quite specifically to argue that black votes for a Republican are inherently suspect. And that, my friends, is at least a racialist argument, and perhaps a flat-out racist one.

The state party should throw out McDaniel’s challenge. So should the courts. And every single conservative activist, including conservative movement leaders, should abandon advocacy for McDaniel because of this racialist garbage. The filing is unacceptable. It cannot be countenanced by any American of goodwill.

McDaniel should go away. Take his challenge and disappear from the public for a while. Vamoose.

And good riddance.

 

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