The Republican Presidential Bench Gets Worse and Worse; or, Haley Barbour Defends Pro-Segregationist Groups
Democrats fear him. Republicans adore him. Many consider him the best Republican strategist of his generation - above even Karl Rove and on a level with Lee Atwater.
And he appears to have jumped the shark.
He could continue to play a version of Nixon's "Southern Strategy" - sure it would alienate African-American voters, but he never planned on getting any African-American votes anyway. He had his flaws as a candidate - actually, he had many - but his savvy and the national network of "chits" he's built up on the right could have been enough to make him a legitimate candidate for the presidency. An underdog to be sure, but still with a potential path to victory based around rallying white male voters around his "good ole boy" folksy style, abetted by the kind of hardcore political knife fighting he was born knowing.
All he had to do was not to praise a pro-segregationist, white supremacist organizations from the Jim Crow era in glowing terms.
Really, it seems like a pretty low bar to hurdle. From the outside, you'd assume that there was almost no way that would come up in conversation anyway.
Yet there it was. Somehow, in the middle of a fluff piece being written for the Weekly Standard, a mouthpiece for testing out Republican policies, he managed to drop some kind words for the White Citizens Councils of the 50s and 60s.
A lot of folks said an overweight, unreconstructed Southerner with a long history as a top lobbyist for drug companies and tobacco companies - who even lobbied on behalf of Mexican companies for the United States to make additional concessions on NAFTA - could never make it all the way. I never believed those folks. I knew Haley to be a smart and ruthless campaigner who knew how to win. This was the man who defeated an incumbent governor in Mississippi in 2003. In 1994, Newt Gingrinch may have been the face of the Republican revolution, but the real mastermind behind it was then RNC chair Haley Barbour.
How could he have been so stupid?
Don't get me wrong - I'm glad (though I fear his self-destruction leaves a lot of room for Sarah Palin to get nomination - angry white men who wanted to send a message, but felt unsure of Palin's ability to win might easily have gravitated to Barbour; now there are fewer GOP candidates with the profile and smarts to take on Palin in a primary).