Will GOP’s Steve Scalise survive or take a dive?

“David Duke without the baggage, but electable” is how the House majority whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) described himself.

It’s been recently reported that Scalise gave a speech to a white supremacist group in May 2002 — a group headed by former Ku Klux Klan leader, anti-Semite, white supremacist, and Republican former office holder David Duke of Louisiana. Although there are no photos or tapes of Scalise, a state representative at the time, giving the speech, he has admitted that he addressed the group, although he claimed he “didn’t know” what the group stood for.

For now, at least, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is standing behind Scalise, and the Louisiana Republican has a two-year term as majority whip in the new Congress. Boehner has frequently had trouble lining up the votes he needs to pass legislation, and Scalise, with his strong Tea Party credentials, has been effective in rustling up votes. But what will happen to Scalise in the long run?

Democrats are mostly holding their ammunition — for now. When asked about Scalise at a White House daily briefing, White House Press Secretary John Earnest read aloud Scalise’s now infamous quote about being “David Duke without the baggage.” The GOP has the right to choose whomever they want in its leadership positions, Earnest said, but having Scalise in such a high-profile position “says a lot about what the [GOP] conference’s values and priorities are.”

Some Republicans are feeling the heat and are saying — under the radar, only anonymously — that it might be time to take Scalise out of the GOP leadership. According to a story in Politico, many Republican aides and lawmakers, including some of his own allies, are starting to say that he has become “too toxic for some Republican circles.”

The “Scalise affect” may be hurting other GOP lawmakers, too. Again, according to Politico: “Rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, found themselves defending Scalise back home, a potentially fatal flaw for someone who wants to serve in leadership. Many of these lawmakers are faced with blistering editorials from hometown newspapers calling for Scalise to step down. Conservative activists like Mark Levin, Erick Erickson, and Sarah Palin have all said he should be booted out of GOP leadership.”

Scalise himself isn’t helping matters much. At first he claimed that he didn’t know the specifics of the group. (Note: The name itself, the “European-American Unity and Rights Organization,” or EURO, should have been a clue.) The group was and is still led by Duke, a former KKK grand wizard. Given Duke’s high profile in Louisiana and nationally, it’s hard to take Scalise at his word.

Scalise’s original excuse was that he talked about the importance of keeping America a Christian nation. Now he claims that he was speaking in reference to a proposed tax plan in Louisiana called the Stelly Plan, described as “a proposal to lower sales taxes on electricity, gas, water, and home food consumption and replace that lost revenue by closing loopholes on individuals making more than $80,000 a year who double-count their federal and state income tax exemptions,” according to Lamar White Jr., the reporter who broke the Scalise story.

Now, according to a story in Salon, White points out the fallacy of Scalise’s tale: That plan wasn’t even introduced in the Louisiana Legislature until AFTER Scalise gave his now-infamous speech to EURO. The Republican campaign against the Stelly plan wasn’t even organized until August 2002. So Scalise’s story doesn’t hold water. Scalise isn’t addressing the subject any more, and his office is merely saying that they are “standing by the congressman’s last statement” on the subject. The Salon story also quotes several people who were at the conference who say they don’t remember Scalise saying anything about the tax plan.

What about David Duke himself? He’s still very active in his own group, with an active website (pardon me if I don’t offer a link to a site espousing white supremacy and anti-Semitism), and is selling books and, apparently, a diet plan. He served in the state Legislature and ran — unsuccessfully, but strongly — for both senator and governor of Louisiana.

Duke has said he’s not afraid to “name names” if anyone comes after Scalise. He claims to have ties to both Republican and Democratic officeholders. Somehow, I doubt that. I don’t doubt that others share his views, but I doubt that they would be in touch with him. Duke says he didn’t have a “relationship” with Scalise, but Duke’s political adviser and campaign manager, Kenny Knight, was “friendly” with Scalise and donated to his political campaigns. “Kenny would keep Scalise up to date on my issues,” Duke is quoted as saying in a story in the Washington Post.

Of course, just as in a lot of decisions in top political circles, it may all come down to money. Again, according to the Politico piece: “ ‘If Republicans want to keep a white supremacist sympathizer as a top leader and the person in charge of telling their Members how to vote, they will pay the price,’ said Jesse Ferguson, a top aide at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. ‘Republican donors won’t want to be seen with him, and vulnerable Republican members can’t afford to be associated with his agenda.’ ”

Of course, that’s a Democrat talking — the Politico piece also says Dems hope Scalise stays as majority whip so they can use the scandal as a fundraising tool. But the story points out that “senior figures within the [GOP] doubt that the corporate chieftains and rich donors who bankroll Republican candidates will give him money to keep campaign coffers filled.”

And here’s a quote from the story from a Republican: “ ‘As far as him going up to the Northeast, or going out to Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago, he’s damaged,’ said a GOP lawmaker who asked not to be named.”

Damaged, yes, but is he damaged beyond repair? As with most political stories, keep your popcorn ready.

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