GOP failing to learn race lessons

Calls for Scalise to resign
Calls for Scalise to resign

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Story highlights

  • Crystal Wright: Steve Scalise scandal a reminder of GOP's race problems
  • Republican efforts to change subject misguided, she says
Editor's note: Crystal Wright runs the blog ConservativeBlackChick.com. She also is a principal at the Baker Wright Group, a communications and public relations firm. You can follow her on Twitter @GOPBlackChick. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)"If our party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out."

That was the Republican Party's own take on the 2012 election as it acknowledged in an autopsy report (otherwise known as the Growth & Opportunity Project) that it was failing to appeal to minority voters.
Unfortunately, too many Republicans have already forgotten this lesson, a reality made all the clearer by the response to recent revelations that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke to a white supremacist group 12 years ago.
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was just one of those who seemed more interested in making excuses than holding Republicans to the standard they had supposedly set for themselves.
    Crystal Wright
    Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Gingrich brushed off the accusations, suggesting it was a "stupidly" scheduled meeting, while noting that President Barack Obama attended the church of the racially divisive Rev. Jeremiah Wright for 20 years. Gingrich also attempted to pivot to the media's treatment of Democrats with racist records.
    "You have (Sen. Robert) Byrd who was the majority leader and a Klan leader. You have Hugo Black, who was a justice, who was a Klan leader. But they were Democrats and being in the Klan was OK," Gingrich lectured.
    Actually, none of that was OK. But this isn't about Democrats -- it's about the racist undercurrent that has been corrupting the GOP for decades, and the fact that the party's establishment has too often looked the other way. Unfortunately, it feels like every time a Republican is caught behaving like a racist in the 21st century, prominent members of the GOP try to change the subject to Democrats behaving badly instead of denouncing what is going on.
    What exactly did Scalise do to deserve the opprobrium that critics have justifiably heaped on him? Well, in 2002, as a Louisiana state representative, Scalise spoke to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, founded by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.
    Scalise alleges a staffer scheduled the appearance and that he wasn't aware of the group's, uh, "divisive racial and religious views," as he wrote in a statement. Yet Scalise's claims of plausible deniability just don't add up.
    Exclusive: Duke threatens to name names
    Exclusive: Duke threatens to name names

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    Exclusive: Duke threatens to name names 00:33
    For a start, The Washington Post reported that Kenny Knight, his neighbor at the time and a longtime Duke adviser, requested Scalise speak to the group and said Scalise "knew who I was, but I don't think he held it against me."
    But we don't even need to look to someone else's take to get a feel for Scalise's past. In 1999, Scalise reportedly told Roll Call he shared Duke's "conservative" views but said that "the novelty of David Duke has worn off."
    More recently, in 2004, Scalise voted against declaring a state holiday honoring civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
    Collectively, these actions don't look like those of an elected official who rejects "that kind of hateful bigotry," as Scalise noted in his statement, but instead suggest a man trying to play politics in a state where only 13% of his congressional district's residents are black.
    Gingrich also told "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer that Mia B. Love, the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, had said Scalise has been "helpful" to her, as if this somehow negates what Scalise has done. But isn't helping out a fellow member of the GOP a pretty basic requirement of the job for someone in a leadership position?
    House speaker, Louisiana Democrat back Scalise
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    House speaker, Louisiana Democrat back Scalise 03:52
    I admire Love, but the truth is that as a black woman myself, I have no idea how she could say on ABC's "This Week" that she believes Scalise "should remain in leadership," particularly since Love doesn't appear to have had experience working directly with him. Perhaps Love was trying to show the GOP she's a team player, but she didn't do herself or the party any favors by standing by a colleague who spoke to a group whose membership would no doubt be happy if segregation had never ended.
    House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Scalise made a "mistake." Speaker John Boehner, for his part, called it an "error of judgment" and added that Scalise has his "full confidence."
    Nonsense.
    As a black Republican, I'm tired of my party continuing to provide safe harbor to people like Scalise. Gingrich complained the media's coverage of Scalise's speech was "a one-sided view of reality." Actually, that sounds more like a description of the GOP today.
    The face of the party looks as intolerant as ever as 2015 begins. Unless it starts showing "representatives" like Scalise the door, it will find itself writing another autopsy report in 2016.