House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) spent most of New Year's week trying to crouch down and wait out the fallout from the revelation that he delivered a speech to the David Duke-founded European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) in 2002. Amid shots from fellow conservatives looking to capitalize on a wounded leader, Scalise saw tepid expressions of support fromSpeaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and waited for other shoes from the story to drop.
So far, no video or audio have surfaced, but there has been extensive reporting on the ways in which people like David Duke factor into Republican politics. By Monday morning, most of the political buzz around Congress had shifted from Scalise's job to another burgeoning revolt against John Boehner's speakership, this time by the likes of Louie Gohmert and Ted Yoho.
At his first White House Daily Briefing of 2015, Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Scalise's woes, and whether the White House felt he should step down as majority whip, and Earnest's carefully-workshopped response was a masterpiece of Northern passive-aggression, noting that the decision to keep Scalise is the Republican Party's to make, and all that that implies:
"Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as 'David Duke without the baggage,' so it'll be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference."
Earnest later revealed that he had not spoken directly to the president about Scalise, but reiterated his point about how leadership decisions reflect on the respective parties. From the composition of Josh's response, it's pretty clear that the Scalise controversy was the subject of some fairly extensive preparation, and that the goal is to help Republicans make David Duke a live political issue this year.
The quote Earnest is referring to comes from The New York Times, which interviewed some veteran Louisiana reporters and politicos:
Stephanie Grace, a Louisiana political reporter and columnist for the past 20 years, first with The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and now The Advocate of Baton Rouge, recalled her first meeting with Mr. Scalise.
“He was explaining his politics and we were in this getting-to-know-each-other stage,” Ms. Grace said. “He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage. I think he meant he supported the same policy ideas as David Duke, but he wasn’t David Duke, that he didn’t have the same feelings about certain people as David Duke did.”
The White House strategy, snarky as it is, has the benefit of not needing to meet the burden of overt racism that Republicans prefer be used to judge them. The beauty of that Steve Scalise slogan, "Like David Duke Without The Baggage," is that it could double as a thesis statement for the Republican Party's 2012 "autopsy report," which sought to rid the GOP of "baggage" like being hated by everyone who isn't a straight white male without changing any of their policies at all.
What Scalise and the Republicans consistently fail to realize is that the policies are the baggage.