On the surface, Shawn Stuart and Ralph Reed have little in common, other than their quest for public office this year as Republicans. But, Stuart, a bona fide Nazi running for state representative in Montana, and Reed, who has repeatedly appealed to antigay and racist bias as Georgia GOP chair and hopes to become lieutenant governor, share an intimate bond. They both have bigotry at the core of their campaigns.
Playing on prejudice is a dance they perform with differing degrees of grace. Reed, a slick and polished consultant, looks to win his August primary, while Stuart, a clumsy first-time candidate, is a longshot for the legislature. Reed, more than Stuart, disguises gay-bashing and scapegoating of immigrants in rhetoric of faith, family, and America’s security. But even fellow Republicans are having a hard time identifying what, in substance, distinguishes the wacko from the White House confidante.
Recently home from service in Iraq, Stuart is the lone GOP candidate in state House district 76, based in heavily Democratic Butte. He told the Missoula Independent that he conveyed to local Republicans his strong anti-immigrant and anti-gay views. Montana state party spokesperson Chuck Butler agreed that the 24-year-old Stuart seemed a normal, even an admirable, GOP standard-bearer. “He made a nice appearance and got himself on the ballot and then he happened to say, ‘Oh, I represent some other interest.’”
“Like anybody else, you can be part of one organization and part of another,” Stuart told the Missoula Independent, when his affiliation with the National Socialist Movement came to light. He added, to the Billings Gazette, that he holds “nothing against any other race. We have our right to exist in the world. They have their right to exist in the world.”
Reed, also a first-time candidate, puts his appeals to prejudice down in black and white. You might not guess it from their wooden headings. His two main policy statements are called “Strengthen Georgia Families, Communities, and Values” and “A Safer and More Secure Georgia.”
The first obsesses over same-sex marriage and calls for a special session of the legislature to attack it. (Yes, you read that right.) It also backs another round of gay-bashing via statewide ballot measure, like the one already approved in 2004.
The second endorses an anti-immigrant crackdown and heaps praise on Georgia Senate Bill 529, one of the harshest laws in the nation. It grants local police officers the authority to arrest and indiscriminately round up those they suspect lack proper documentation. A broad spectrum of religious leaders, including the U.S. Catholic Conference, denounced the law. Reed, however, sees it as just a “first step.”
The longtime head of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, Reed has been tarred by his involvement in the Jack Abramoff GOP corruption investigation. But like his former boss, Reed has played on prejudice to sway voters and raise his reputation.
In 2002, he used mail and radio appeals denouncing abortion and praising the Confederate flag to help Saxby Chambliss defeat then-Sen. Max Cleland. In 2004, as southeast regional rep for Bush’s reelection, he unleashed a mailing suggesting that Democrats would ban the Bible and aggressively promote gay couples.
The current debate about immigration reform, while dividing Republicans nationally, sets a welcome stage for some GOP candidates eager to tap into fear and hatred. It allows them to sidestep any concrete solution or measurable results by instead lashing out at what Reed calls “law-breaking” and what Stuart calls the mingling of “pelicans” and “crows.”
Reed and Stuart aren’t alone in playing on prejudice to woo Republican voters, or in blurring the lines between marginal and mainstream GOP candidacies.
• Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King has trivialized the torture of detained Iraqis as “hazing” and sought to cancel sections of the federal Voting Rights Act that help non-English-speaking citizens cast ballots. Like fellow GOP antagonist Tom Tancredo of Colorado, he takes a vicious line against immigrants and has called for a razor-wire wall on the Mexican border. He’s also revived the tactics of Joe McCarthy by branding a California city official a “communist” and then blocking the dedication of a post office after the 94-year-old human-rights activist.
• Illinois state senator Chris Lauzen has emerged as another ringleader of attacks on gays and immigrants. In opposing a landmark state civil rights bill in 2005, he invoked the quack claims of discredited researcher Paul Cameron to argue that gays live shorter lives. And he fought a bid to allow qualified immigrants who seek a license to drive legally in the state, saying it was the same as having “privileges handed to you.”
• Oklahoma state representative Kevin Calvey also rails against gays and immigrants. He has sponsored a bill like that Reed pushed through in Georgia, which would force local and state government workers to tell on suspected illegals. He also demanded, and won, the repeal of a state school board provision barring bias against gay people. Calvey trumpeted the change as insulating the state against “homosexual rights organizations.”
• In Tennessee, in March, the executive committee of the state GOP bounced James Hart from the party’s slot on the August 3 primary ballot. Hart was the party’s candidate in 2004, taking 82 percent in the primary and 26 percent in the general election. He attacks immigrants and gays while also advocating eugenics and limits on immigration or reproduction by what he told the Associated Press are “less favored races.”
Republicans can pay a price for being tagged as extremist. A March poll of Georgia Republicans by the polling company InsiderAdvantage shows that Reed, if he won his primary and appeared on the fall ballot with incumbent Gov. Sonny Perdue, would drag down all Republicans. For every 2 people who said his presence was an incentive, 3 others said he would be a hex.
Still, no other GOP leader goes as far as Butler, in Montana, who says Stuart is a disgrace to the Party of Lincoln: He and other local leaders have endorsed the Democrat in the fall showdown.
In the early ’90s, longtime conservative direct-mail consultant Marvin Liebman criticized the Republican Party for increasingly relying on intolerance in its appeals to voters. He saw the GOP becoming just “an agglomeration of bigotries.” For Liebman, who gave Reed one of his first jobs in politics and came out as a gay man after decades as an anti-communist mouthpiece, the pronouncement was all the more painful since it served as a mea culpa.
In politics, defeat is often a wakeup call to conscience. Democrats have regrouped from losses in ‘04 to move for immigrant rights at the federal level and make anti-gay discrimination illegal in three states. For Republicans, one potential by-product of rejection on Nov. 7 is that the practitioners of scapegoating might finally take a look in the mirror.