Yet another shoe has dropped in the scandal rocking Speaker John Boehner’s ally, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Nearly 20 years ago, when he was an up-and-coming politician, he reportedly told a reporter that he’s like “David Duke without the baggage.”
“This is what I remember about the first time I met Steve Scalise nearly 20 years ago: He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage,” Stephanie Grace, a longtime reporter on Louisiana politics, writes in the liberal New Orleans Advocate.
“I was a new reporter covering Jefferson Parish, and Scalise, now the majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, was just starting out in the Louisiana Legislature (I’m going from memory, but the exchange obviously stuck with me),” Grace writes.
Scalise spokespersons Moira Bagley and Thomas Tatum did not immediately respond to a request for comment in response to Grace’s article.
Scalise has desperately tried to separate himself from Duke in recent days, but this column from Grace indicates that Scalise attempted to portray himself along the same lines as Duke politically in his early days on the campaign trail to garner support.
“The ‘baggage,’ of course, was Duke’s past, his racist and anti-Semitic views and his former role as a KKK grand wizard,” Grace writes. “Scalise disavowed Duke then, as he did once again this week, when blogger Lamar White Jr. revealed that Scalise had spoken in 2002 at a meeting hosted by a Duke-founded white nationalist group. But the other part of the sentence, the part about their similarity, was the rub. Scalise may have been naïve about how to express himself to a newcomer, but he was already a savvy politician who knew that, even though Duke had lost the governor’s race a few years earlier, Duke voters were still around. And those Duke voters also were potential Scalise voters.”
After word of the 2002 speech broke, Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced their support for Scalise. They argued that it was an isolated incident and a moment of bad judgment.
But since then, Scalise’s longtime ties to Duke’s top political hand Kenneth Knight—including Knight’s $1,000 donation to Scalise’s 2008 U.S. congressional campaign, Knight’s phone banking for Scalise’s U.S. House campaign that year and a close political relationship—have emerged, painting a picture of poor judgment by a career politician. Neither Scalise’s statements about this scandal, nor Boehner’s or McCarthy’s, have addressed Scalise’s longtime ties with Knight or the Duke campaign manager’s work for his political campaigns.
Scalise is facing calls for his resignation of his GOP leadership position from the editorial boards of USA Today and the Chicago Tribune, and the scandal about his longtime ties to Duke and Duke’s circles has rocked Scalise, putting his entire political career in jeopardy.
Scalise has worked the phones in Congress, calling members throughout his party to urge them to support him. A former chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), Scalise has gotten some top Republicans and even some conservatives to back him up.
But a key GOP bloc Scalise especially needs to keep on his side is conservatives in the House. A senior House GOP aide tells Breitbart News that Scalise’s unflagging work on Boehner’s behalf will come back to bite him, as the conservatives won’t have his back. Scalise, as RSC chairman, actually fired the group’s longtime executive director Paul Teller—a conservative respected movement-wide. Teller has since become chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Couple that with Scalise’s recent work on behalf of President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty—Scalise whipped votes in favor of the 1,774-page, $1.1 trillion so-called “cromnibus” spending bill—and Scalise is going to be hard-pressed to get public support from conservative members.
“Steve’s pattern is pure political expediency; do what it takes to get to the top,” the GOP aide said in an email:
It’s what Dems do all the time: use people to get power. That’s why you do something so foolish as outreach to known racists to win their vote. That’s why you gut the conservative core from the Republican Study Committee to impress Boehner and the rest of leadership. That’s why you go against the vast majority of your constituents and refuse to fight the president’s amnesty when the opportunity is there. There’s very little room for principles, especially conservative ones, when your driving force is personal ambition. The real question is whether conservatives in the House Republican Conference will continue to tolerate this brand of leadership.