By Robert Mann
Former KKK leader David Duke was once an aberration in the Republican Party – an unabashed racist and xenophobe seeking higher office by appealing to voters’ baser instincts.
The novelty of Duke, running again for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana this year, was once enough to earn him a rabid following and the widespread scorn of GOP leaders in Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C. A generation ago, Duke cleverly leveraged that establishment scorn into 43 percent in his 1990 U.S. Senate campaign against then-incumbent J. Bennett Johnston (full disclosure: I was Johnston’s campaign press secretary at the time) and 39 percent the following year in a wild runoff for governor.
In both races, Duke won almost a third of Louisiana’s 64 parishes (counties), including several in the suburbs of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In both races, he captured a majority of the state’s white vote.
It’s been 25 years, but memories of those ugly, racism-tinged campaigns are not distant and certainly not forgotten. Duke’s was a prelude for “mainstream” Republicans who would eventually win almost all the state’s major elected offices. However, as more respectable Republicans harvested the corn Duke sowed, the neo-Nazi, white supremacist hero was sitting in a federal prison after prosecutors caught him bilking supporters of contributions, much of which he gambled away at casinos.
Last Friday, however, he strutted into the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office to file for the Senate. “I’m overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years,” Duke said.
Duke’s candidacy has thus far elicited little of the popular excitement and enthusiasm that swept the state’s white precincts in the early 1990s. Many of his erstwhile supporters are still around, for sure. But Duke is largely passé in the Bayou State, a sad, corrupt curiosity from a time when his bigotry wasn’t quite ready for prime time in the GOP.
How appropriate, then, that a Trump acolyte like Duke declared his candidacy the morning after the New York mogul formally accepted the GOP standard in Cleveland. The two men deserve each other. Although Trump wanly disavowed Duke’s endorsement, they draw support from the same fetid well.
Continue reading at The Hill at this link.