Mitch McConnell’s “Scary” Problem

Terrance Heath

Mitch McConnell’s goal for the new Republican-led Congress is simple: Don’t scare voters away from a GOP presidential candidate in 2016. Recent events, both silly and serious, suggest that will be an uphill battle.

The Silly

John Boehner (R, Ohio) was re-elected Speaker of the House on Tuesday. There was little doubt that he would. However, Boehner faced some opposition from the far right wing of the party.

On Sunday, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R, Texas) threw his hat in the ring to challenge Boehner for Speaker.

Yes, that Louie Gohmert.

Gohmert garnered support from right-wing media stars like Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham.

Sean Hannity tweeted his support.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R, Florida) also announced his candidacy.

Yoho could give Gohmert a run for his money.

Rep. David Brat (R, Virginia), the primary challenger who defeated former Rep. Eric Cantor announced on Monday that he wouldn’t support Boehner for Speaker. Rep. Steve King (R,Iowa) said in an article posted on Brietbart.Com, “I will vote for an alternative candidate for speaker. I can’t vote for John Boehner again.” Twenty-five Republicans voted against Boehner; including an unexpected 12 for Rep. Daniel Webster (R, Florida) — who may have represented a saner alternative to Gohmert and Yoho.

Neither Gohmert nor Yoho was a serious threat to Boehner, but combined with opposition from powerful conservative media, and votes of right-wing Republicans, it represents a heightened challenge to his leadership going forward. Boehner has never had an easy time leading his caucus, and the extreme right-wing of the House GOP will probably challenge him even more in the 114th Congress.

The Serious

That Rep. Steve Scalise (R, Louisiana) is still House Majority Whip is exactly what McConnell says he doesn’t want the Republican Congress to be: scary. In late December, news broke that in 2002 Scalise addressed the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), an anti-semitic, white-supremacist organization in founded by David Duke in 2000. EURO has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, for its racist, anti-semitic views.

It beggars belief that Scalise could have not known the nature of a group founded by none other than David Duke — a former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, who exchanged white sheets for Brooks Brothers suits, and was elected as a Republican to Louisiana’s state House in 1989. In 1999, Scalise told Roll Call that his biggest problem with David Duke was that Duke “can’t get elected.”

“The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

Steve Scalise - EURORepublican leadership has lined up to support Steve Scalise. They can hardly do otherwise. As examples like Ron Paul’s newsletter , Rand Paul’s “Southern Avenger,”, Duck Dynasty, Chris McDaniel, and Cliven Bundy have shown, the message and politics of groups like EURO appeal to a significant segment of the GOP’s white conservative base. Republicans can’t offend them without paying a price.

The Scalise scandal brings Mitch McConnell’s “scary” problem into sharp focus. As White House Press Secretary said, “Who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are and what their values should be.” Seeing a man who described himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” in a leadership position willscare many Americans, when the GOP desperately needs to attract new voters. If that doesn’t scare Mitch McConnell and other Republicans leaders too, it should.

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