Addressing fellow Republicans as he sought a second term, President Dwight Eisenhower warned: “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”
Eisenhower campaigned for re-election in 1956 on a pro-civil rights platform that distinguished national Republicans from national Democrats who were afraid to offend their party’s segregationist supporters in the South. The most prominent African-American in Congress, New York Democrat Adam Clayton Powell, broke with his own party to back Eisenhower. While Democrats made excuses for the racists in their ranks, Powell hailed Eisenhower’s willingness to renew the “Party of Lincoln” commitment to equal justice under law.
Flash forward six decades. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former presidential contender who has positioned himself as a leader of national Republicans, still quotes Abraham Lincoln and celebrates the first Republican president’s legacy of “freedom and democracy for all.” Though he makes shameful excuses for Donald Trump’s extremism, Walker also says that people who peddle racist language and ideas "need to be unilaterally dismissed and denounced."
This fall, Walker can clarify whether there is any of the “Party of Lincoln” left in the GOP. Walker is a longtime leader of the Republican Governors Association, which he currently serves as a national board member and frequent spokesman.
The RGA backs Republican gubernatorial candidates. One of this year’s candidates is Ron DeSantis, who on the morning after he won the Republican nomination in Florida appeared on Fox News and declared “the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up” by electing his Democratic rival, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Gillum would be Florida’s first African-American governor.
The “monkey this up” line was immediately denounced as “a racist dog whistle.” Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart explained: “Likening African-Americans to monkeys, apes and chimps is a racist pastime. Since slavery, blacks were seen as not human or less than human.”
Former Congressman David Jolly, a prominent Florida Republican, observed: “Even in the most favorable light, it was stupid and callous and showed a level of historic ignorance.”
DeSantis tried to make excuses. Yet, since his August nomination, he has run a campaign that has raised one alarm bell after another. The Tampa Bay Tribune has reported on “a string of racial incidents indirectly or directly involving his campaign or people connected to his campaign.” A recent Politico headline announced: “New racial controversy batters DeSantis: This is the fifth race-related issue concerning the Florida candidate, his gubernatorial campaign or one of its supporters.” Miami’s New Times newspaper explains: “DeSantis has a clear, repeated pattern of making offensive and/or outright racist statements, hanging out with racists, and defending other people who are also racists.”
It’s time for Republican governors like Walker to reject DeSantis. They need to block any further support of the Floridian by the RGA. If they fail to do so, after all that has come out about DeSantis, they will confirm that today’s Republican Party is what Eisenhower feared: “a conspiracy to seize power.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @NicholsUprising.
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