Reminder: Steve Scalise once described himself as ‘David Duke without the baggage’

Google searches on “Steve Scalise” skyrocketed on Wednesday morning when the House Majority Whip was reported as one of the individuals injured after a shooter opened fire on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where a congressional baseball practice was being held. While news outlets were quick to pick up on Scalise’s reputation as a staunch anti-gun control advocate, further research uncovered a 2014 feature in The New York Times about how so many of noted racist David Duke’s allies in his 1991 bid for governor of Louisiana are now in positions of power in D.C. Chief among those names? Steve Scalise, who once gave a speech to a white nationalist group at the behest of Duke, and referred to their like-mindedness when speaking with a reporter:

David Duke seems a figure from the past, the former Klansman and white supremacist who two decades ago was almost elected Louisiana governor.

But this week when Representative Steve Scalise, the third-ranking House Republican leader, found himself trying to explain why he accepted a speaking engagement offered by a key aide to Mr. Duke in 2002, it was a reminder of the awkward dance and hard choices that Republicans in Louisiana faced in the 1990s when Mr. Duke was one of the most charismatic politicians in the state.

According to the article, getting friendly with Duke was all a part of the necessary dance that Louisiana’s political wannabes had to endure at the time. And Scalise, like many of his colleagues, was just as quick to turn their backs on Duke once they had secured the trust of his voters. But if “I Wanna Be Like Dave” was the song that politicians needed to sing in order to secure those votes, Scalise was belting it out at the top of his lungs.

In the article, Louisiana political reporter Stephanie Grace recalled her first meeting with 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.”

Though Scalise did not return two days’ worth of text, emails and phone calls for a comment on the story at the time, Chuck Kleckley — Louisiana’s then-speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives — wasn’t afraid to speak up on Scalise’s behalf, saying that people should not confuse Scalise’s conservatism with Duke’s anti-everythingism:

“It’s not fair to Steve at all,” Mr. Kleckley said. “He’s a good man, a good father, a good husband and a great person. Ever since I’ve known Steve, he wanted to do what’s right for Louisiana. I never felt like there was any kind of David Duke leanings with Steve.”

Even if being the keynote at a hate group rally was merely a cheap grab for more votes, one needs to question the mindset of any rational human being who would willingly use the words “like David Duke” to describe themselves. In any way.

For his part, “Mr. Scalise said he only vaguely recalled his speech, had no forewarning it was a white nationalist group and would have avoided the meeting had he known.”

According to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Scalise remains in critical condition.

[h/t: The Week | Photo: AP]