Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel is leading an insurgency in that state against its sitting U.S. senator, challenging him in the 2014 primaries. The Confederate South is not generally the sort of thing to which people seeking elected office seek comparison, but this year, for the Republican Party, parallels to that era are remarkably easy to draw. Particularly after McDaniel was revealed to have spoken at events held by secessionist groups.
McDaniel, who announced his candidacy last week, was quickly endorsed by two conservative groups with ties to the Tea Party. On at least two occasions over the summer, however, he spoke at events hosted by other organizations, ones that either celebrate the state's rebellious history or still expressly advocate for the right of secession.
The leader of one group, the Rosin Heels, spoke to Mother Jones magazine, which revealed McDaniel' speeches on Wednesday. (A portion of the Rosin Heels' photo gallery, at right, shows McDaniel speaking. Above that photo, a poster suggesting that Abraham Lincoln was a criminal.)
McDaniel is "just proud of his heritage and grateful for it, and that's the reason we wanted him to come in and speak a couple of times," says George Jaynes, a member of the Rosin Heels and the newsletter's editor, who confirmed that McDaniel had attended the events. "We're mainly here to remember the Confederate soldier, our Confederates beliefs, our culture, our civilization. We're here to remember their good names upheld them to tell the truth and to give the facts of the war whether it falls on our side or the other."
Among those "Confederate beliefs," of course, was: "white people can own and abuse black people to their own economic benefit." Another belief was that "the South should be independent from the greater United States," which is why the Confederates were called "rebels." Neither belief has been explicitly espoused by McDaniel — in fact, he almost certainly rejects both — but neither is a good look for a political candidate.
But it's a look we keep seeing. There was the guy who brought a Confederate flag to the White House to protest, of all things, the shutdown of the federal government. There was the social media director for libertarian Sen. Rand Paul who left his job after his old pro-secessionist writing came to light.
For the literalists out there, there's the map below. Anti-Obama states (at least those that were around in 1865) and Confederate states share a lot of overlap.
Below: Blue states were Union; red, Confederate. Light blue states voted for Romney in 2013; light red ones, for Obama.
What Civil War secessionists sought, broadly, was autonomy, to continue doing what they wanted. It's trivial to cast McDaniel and the Tea Party in that same light, challenging the establishment Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who is literally sitting in Washington, D.C. Cochran voted for the hated measure to end the shutdown revolt and reopen the government, making him a traitor to conservatism, an acquiescent moderate dangling from a tentacle of the Northern aggressors. This is the internecine feud between them and the establishment. (Bloomberg: "Republican Civil War Erupts.") That feud has pulled the party further to the right, helping to exacerbate the partisanship in Congress — partisanship that is at levels unmatched since the end of the Civil War.
That rhetoric is tricky (and, in our formulation, overwrought) but it's nothing to get terribly upset about. When McDaniel embraces Civil War secession, however loosely, it is. Pride in your hometown and community is fine. Pride in your state having gone to war to preserve slavery is not. Even in Mississippi, where the Confederate stars-and-bars is still included in the state's flag, McDaniel should know better. That's the distinction that potential senators and the staff for existing ones need to draw.
As for the GOP: they've coddled the South, sure, and fostered it and been driven by it. But there's nothing they can do right now to change that it's their base. But it certainly wouldn't hurt if those who looked at the Confederacy wistfully weren't excused and if candidates for the United States Senate, embarking on their own bloodless revolution, didn't receive quick and hearty endorsements.
Update, 5:00 p.m.: Erick Erickson, himself a hearty Southerner, sees the McDaniel reports as just another front in the War Between the Republicans.
[The establishment Republicans] want to make conservative candidates as radioactive as possible and I have no doubt, should a guy like McDaniel win the primary, the NRSC and others will do everything possible to blow him up and blame conservatives. The GOP Establishment is not so much interested in winning in 2014 as they are interested in destroying conservatives before 2016.
Photo: People at a rally in Virginia in September cheer as the Confederate flag is raised. (AP)