“Censuring Speech” Or A “Racist Action”: The Conservative Split Over Scalise

Conservative media have split over Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who apologized last week following the revelation that he had spoken at a white supremacist conference in 2002. Some conservative pundits have defended Scalise as a victim of a media double standard, and accused liberals of “censuring speech and ideas in America.” But other conservatives have called on Scalise to step down from his role as House majority whip for being an “idiot” over a “racist action” that “is disgusting and wrong.” 

Right-wing defense of Scalise echoes the Republican Party leadership, which has defended the Louisiana congressman and has not called for him to relinquish his role as the third highest-ranking GOP member in the House of Representatives.

Here's a look at the pro- and anti-Scalise factions in the conservative media. 

Conservative Media: Scalise Story Overblown, Liberals “Censuring Speech”

Newt Gingrich: Scalise Story “Blown Up Into A National Story” But Obama Got “A Pass.” CNN analyst Gingrich appeared on the January 4 edition of CBS' Face The Nation and defended Scalise. Gingrich said Obama got “a pass” on his ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and “Scalise is a deeply committed Catholic who condemns hate organizations and, to the best of our knowledge, gave a speech on taxes 12 years ago. Now, for a 12-year-old speech to be blown up into a national story I think is frankly one more example of a one-sided view of reality.”

Jonah Goldberg: Outrage Over Scalise Shows “Liberal Double Standards.” The National Review senior editor wrote on December 31 that conservatives are angry about “liberal double standards” with regard to Scalise. He added:

Whether it was an honest mistake, as Scalise plausibly claims, or a sign of something more nefarious, as his detractors hope, remains to be seen.

But one common response on social media is instructive. Countless conservatives want to know: Why the double standard? Barack Obama was friends with a domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers. His spiritual mentor was a vitriolic racist, Jeremiah Wright. One of his administration's closest advisers and allies is Al Sharpton, a man who has inspired enough racial violence to make a grand dragon's white sheets turn green with envy.

Quin Hillyer: Scalise Situation “Just Bad Luck.” Hillyer, contributing editor for National Review, defended Scalise on December 31:

In my years in Louisiana politics before turning to journalism, I spent plenty enough time around Louisiana legislators to know they do not have the requisite staff to vet speaking events. They drive around the state, constantly on their cell phones -- handling legislative business, their own private-sector jobs, their speaking engagements, and plenty of other matters, usually at breakneck speed. If the head of their neighborhood association asks them to speak on a tax issue they are frequently speaking on anyway, they say yes and don't ask other questions.

That's what appears to have happened here.

Sometimes people stumble into situations that look bad. Sometimes they don't even know they have done so until many years later. And sometimes what looks like mistaken judgment is actually just a case of confusion. It has happened to me before. It happens at some point to almost anybody in politics. When it does, as has now happened with Scalise, it's usually not a sign of bad character. It's just bad luck.

Star Parker: Liberals “Censuring Speech” By Complaining About White Supremacist Appearance. Syndicated columnist Parker defended Scalise in her January 2 column, writing: “who cares who they were? Shouldn't a legislator with reforms to improve his state or his nation be free to sell good ideas to anyone? How far do we let liberals go in censuring speech and ideas in America?” She concluded: “Conservatives must stand firm and support leaders like Steve Scalise, who believe in America, in freedom, in our Constitution and in the traditional values that hold our families together.”  

Media Research Center Complains Media Hyping Scalise Story. The conservative group complained on December 31 that “liberal New York Times and the Washington Post went into hyperdrive, Wednesday, devoting a combined 3800 words and three front page stories to a scandal involving Republican Congressman Steve Scalise. Both newspapers worked from the same talking points, insisting that Scalise's 12-year-old speech to a racist organization could derail the GOP's attempts to take back the White House.” MRC vice president Dan Gainor added on Twitter that the “Scalise situation has nothing to do with him. Latest media feeding frenzy on every conservative 'scandal.' Libs never treated same.”

Bryan Fischer: Media Investigating Scalise But Not Benghazi. The AFR Talk radio host wrote on Twitter that “If only the low-information media did the kind of research into Benghazi they're doing on Steve Scalise” and “I have no brief for Scalise. As part of GOP establishment, he's a problem. But GOP calls for his resignation are absurd.”

Conservative Media: Scalise An “Idiot” Who Committed “Racist Action” And Should Resign

Greta Van Susteren: Scalise Should Have The “Moral Courage Would Be To Step Down.” The Fox News host said in an appearance on ABC's This Week that “associating with David Duke is grossly unwise” and “moral courage would be to step down because it sends a very bad message to the American people.”

Mark Levin: “The Idiot Defense Is Not Good Enough For The #3 Republican House Leader.” The radio host defended Scalise in a Facebook post, asking on January 2: “I have to ask, Mr. Scalise, are you an idiot?” Levin added: “No one is saying Scalise is a racist.  But the idiot defense is not good enough for the #3 Republican House leader.  There's just too much at stake and it's not too much to expect much better from the Republican Party ... Scalise is another setback.” Levin also wrote in another Facebook post of Scalise and Boehner: “GOP establishment a disastrous mess. Clean them out. Time for new leaders with conservative principles.”

Sarah Palin: “Defense Of This (Last Decade) Racist Action Is Disgusting And Wrong.” The Fox News contributor wrote in a January 2 Facebook post:

Defense of this (last decade) racist action is disgusting and wrong, as is defense of the even more recent immoral actions of our President's with any association he embraced with the racist Jeremiah Wright and the anti-American domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. I'll add to Levin's list: Do political “leaders” think Americans are so stupid we don't recognize the despicable double standard here, and that we're so weakly complacent that we'll put up with this?

Erick Erickson: “How Do You Show Up At A David Duke Event And Not Know What It Is?” The Fox News contributor wrote in a December 29 blog post of Scalise: “How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance? Trent Lott was driven from the field in 2001 for something less than this. And the very GOP establishment now lining up behind Steve Scalise threw Chris McDaniel under the bus for speaking to a Sons of the Confederate Veterans event." Erickson criticized Republicans in a December 30 post, writing “Their latest spin... is that Scalise's ability to connect with racists makes him a bridge builder between conservatives and Speaker Boehner. I kid you not.”

Chicago Tribune: “Scalise Needs To Step Down From His Leadership Post.” The Tribune editorial board, which characterizes itself as “traditionally conservative,” wrote on December 30 that “Scalise needs to step down from his leadership post, or House Republicans need to remove him. His denials are pretty hard to believe. ... Scalise has disqualified himself from a position of leadership in a party that needs to do a better job of understanding and addressing the suspicions it arouses among many minority Americans.”

Boston Herald: “A Time To Stand Aside.” The conservative Boston Herald editorial page wrote on January 4 that Scalise “shouldn't keep that position as long as questions swirl about his 2002 address to a gathering organized by David Duke, who ran as a racist candidate for governor of Louisiana in 1991 and for other offices at other times. The revelations can only hurt the party if he stays.” The Herald concluded: “By all accounts he's not personally racist. But liberals are accusing him, and the Republican leadership, of that. They shouldn't be offered a target for such a slander.”