x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Republicans stumble into another race controversy

The candidate to lead the youth wing of the party claims that supporters of her opponent are attempting to paint her as a racist.

WASHINGTON // As the Young Republican National Federation prepares to elect a new chairman tomorrow during its annual convention, it does so facing something that has become familiar to the political party of late: controversy. One of two candidates running for the job, Audra Shay, the federation's current vice chair, has found herself under fire after responding with seeming encouragement to a recent post on her Facebook page that referred to Barack Obama as a terrorist and included a racial slur about African-Americans. The matter began when Ms Shay posted a Facebook status update saying that the hypermarket chain Wal-Mart had "just signed a death warrant in my opinion" because it backed the US president's healthcare plan, according to screen shots of her page published by various media outlets. That prompted a flurry of replies, including two from a Facebook "friend" named Eric. The first railed against big, intrusive government, saying it was "making us commies". The second referred to "Obama bin Laden" as a "terrorist" and a "Muslim" and said "[we] need to take this country back from all these mad coons". "You tell em Eric! lol," Ms Shay subsequently wrote, using the abbreviation for "laughing out loud". She maintains she was responding to the first comment, not the second, which she has since condemned as "derogatory" and "disgusting". And she blames dirty politics in the race for the Young Republican chairmanship, which is to be decided by a vote tomorrow at the group's convention in Indiana. "I do not, [nor] would I ever, condone that type of language or behaviour," Ms Shay said in a statement. "Unfortunately, my opponents have now spun a web of misconception and untruths, desperately trying to paint me as a racist. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I have made it part of my Young Republican life to ensure that we did not just focus on outreach, but inclusion. "It is a disgrace that these types of political attacks are taking place and once again, it proves that my opponents will stoop to the lowest levels to steal this election from the jaws of victory." Ms Shay did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment. Her opponent in the race, Rachel Hoff, a national committee member for the Young Republicans in the District of Columbia, also did not respond to a request for comment. The matter puts the Republican Party on the spot once again on the matter of race, even as it tries to court minorities and bill itself as inclusive. The current episode is reminiscent of an earlier controversy involving one of the candidates for the national Republican Party chairmanship, Chip Saltsman. He included on a campaign CD a copy of the song Barack the Magic Negro, sung to the melody of Puff the Magic Dragon. The then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mike Duncan, who is white, said at the time he was "shocked" and "appalled". But Mr Saltsman, who ultimately lost the January vote for chairman, was defended by a fellow contender, Kenneth Blackwell, who is black. Mr Blackwell attributed the flap over the CD to "hypersensitivity" in the press. There have been other incidents. Last year, conference organisers at the Values Voter Summit shut down the sale of "Obama Waffles" in a box that depicted him in a cartoon caricature with thick lips and bugged-out eyes. A member of the state Republican committee in Florida also resigned in January after sending an e-mail to colleagues reported to have said of Mr Obama's inauguration: "I'm confused. How can 2,000,000 blacks get into Washington, DC in 1 day in sub zero temps when 200,000 couldn't get out of New Orleans in 85 degree temps with four days notice?" She was referring to the many people stranded there, in desperate conditions, following Hurricane Katrina. In a forced apology, she bemoaned the fact that some people seemed to have lost their sense of humour. Lenny McAllister, a black conservative who co-founded the website Hip Hop Republican and is a member of the North Carolina GOP's executive committee, said in a statement about the current controversy that he was "appalled" that Ms Shay "could support and encourage antiquated, racist language and behaviour that has aided in ripping apart the Republican Party and America for decades". "Audra Shay had an opportunity to show what Republicans truly stand for when facing a disgusting and hurtful sentiment," he said. "Instead, she merely continued the poor trend of what a minority of Republicans embarrassingly enact. This is not the mark of leadership." eniedowski@thenational.ae