National Review journalist Quinn Hillyer is calling for the censure and possible removal of Henry Barbour from the RNC for funding race-baiting ads in the runoff for the U.S. Senate primary in Mississippi. Hillyer writes that the race-baiting ads pushed by Barbour, followed by lies to other RNC leaders to cover his involvement merit serious punitive action.
I hope to emphasize that censure is merited not because (Henry) Barbour worked against the wishes of many conservatives, not because he tried to attract black Democratic votes in a Republican primary, not just because there was an element of hardball in his tactics, and certainly not because he’s on what many conservatives consider to be the wrong side in intra-RNC disputes. It also has nothing to do with legal questions or allegations of direct vote fraud. Instead, what is specifically at issue and unforgiveable here, and what deserves sanction, is the particular nature of the racial scare tactics Barbour used, combined with the falsehoods he repeatedly told fellow RNC members.
Now, getting to the case itself: It is one thing to suggest that one candidate’s positions tend to be better for more black voters than another candidate’s. It is perfectly fine to target different voter groups with different messages and (within careful reason) even to mention race when doing so. But the ads and robocalls against McDaniel went much further. They explicitly warned that McDaniel was closely tied to people involved with the Ku Klux Klan. They said McDaniel had a “racist agenda.” They specifically branded the entire tea-party movement as having “racist ideas.” And even the slightly-less-explicit robocalls, which Barbour already admitted helping pay for (although he says he never listened to them in advance), tied tea partiers explicitly to disrespectful treatment of the first African-American president.
This is beyond noxious. If any Democrat or leftist had done this to Republicans, Barbour himself would probably be yelling bloody murder. But when a Republican committeeman contributes to the wholesale branding of major conservative activist groups as racist, he not only engages in the vilest slander, he also takes away conservatives’ ability to complain about similar smears from the Left. These tactics are beneath contempt and incredibly deleterious to the Republican party’s electoral and philosophical endeavors.
Hillyer continues that Barbour’s action warrant censure by the RNC, and a discussion of “expulsion” by state party officials:
Barbour’s involvement in financing such slander should be enough, on its own, to warrant censure. Note that censure is the appropriate method of internal, verbal discipline: Official censure is usually (although not always) something an organization does to one of its own. It is not an expulsion. Indeed, except in truly unusual circumstances, expulsion should be the province not of an organization such as the RNC but of one of its member’s electors, meaning in this case the Mississippi state Republican committee, should they wish to remove from office somebody who serves at the pleasure and direction of those electors.
While Hillyer contends that the race-baiting ads were enough to warrant the censure, it was the attempted cover-up by Barbour that makes further action “appropriate”.
When someone exacerbates the original error by repeatedly misleading his colleagues, censure is even more appropriate. Missouri’s Republican chairman, Ed Martin, circulated a letter to all his fellow RNC members in which he asked chairman Reince Priebus to investigate the race-baiting ads and robocalls. In a long series of e-mails back and forth among Martin, Barbour, and numerous other RNC members, Barbour disavowed involvement with the ads and robocalls and also denounced their content.
In another call, Barbour referred to the report of his involvement as being “full of crazy claims that anyone who knows me knows are untrue.”
But, as Hillyer reports, Barbour himself has impugned his word. As Eliana Johnson reported in her recent NRO story:
Henry Barbour says . . . Barbour’s committee was “clearly the material donor” [to the group that aired the racial commercials]. And he is not distancing himself from the inflammatory ads. In fact, he says they were deserved because McDaniel and his tea-party supporters criticized Cochran’s outreach to black voters and “tried to intimidate African Americans from voting.”
“That conduct was reprehensible and was not good for Mississippi or the Republican Party,” Barbour says. “Many Mississippians, who were already disgusted by McDaniel’s race-baiting talk-radio-show comments, heard the code words that insinuated that African Americans were not welcome in the Republican primary.”
So which is it, Mr. Barbour? Do you “disagree with the messages” in the ads and “find them deplorable,” or were they “deserved”? Did you have “nothing to do with them” or was your committee “clearly the material donor”?
If the RNC fails to act, it risks so alienating the grassroots that volunteers will withdraw from the process and, worse, that conservatives will boycott the polls entirely this fall. Indeed, that’s exactly what influential blogger John Hawkins suggested last week. Such a cure might be worse than the disease, but the inclination to stay home is widespread, and the RNC should not ignore it.