From the WTF files, the Republican incumbent senator in Mississippi commented about being on the “front row” of a “public hanging.” If you are wondering in what context it is appropriate for senators anywhere, much less Mississippi, to use the phrase “public hanging” in an approving sense, there is none.
The unfortunate and asinine comment came in a video released over the weekend that depicted a Nov. 2 conversation between Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and a group of supporters in Tupelo. In the video clip, Hyde-Smith is standing beside a tall man who has been identified as Colin Hutchinson, a cattle rancher who supported her re-election campaign. Hutchinson has his arm around her shoulders and the two are standing in front of a small group of supporters, all of whom are white.
The dialogue is difficult to make out because of a train horn that is blowing at the same time, but Hyde-Smith gestures toward the man and clearly says, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the first row.”
In a statement released on Sunday, Hyde-Smith dismissed the comment as a joke, saying, “I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.”
While Hyde-Smith’s comment was obviously an attempt at homespun humor, it is equally obvious that the joke fell flat and played right into the hands of the Democrats. In a close race with Democrat Mike Espy, who happens to be black, making a reference that would be connected with lynchings is monumentally stupid.
Whether Hyde-Smith intended the reference to be racial or not, many voters took it that way and now she has to spend time explaining to voters that she’s not a racist, she’s only a person who makes stupid comments. Most candidates would rather spend the weeks before a close runoff election talking about policy and criticizing their opponent instead of explaining their sense of humor.
Here’s a free piece of advice for Republican candidates everywhere: Democrats are going to try to paint you as bigots and racists. Don’t say things that help them do this.
Between 1877 and 1950, about 4,000 black people and about half as many whites were lynched by racial mobs that often included members of the Ku Klux Klan. The murderers in the cases were rarely prosecuted. One of the most famous lynchings, the murder of Emmet Till, occurred in Mississippi as did the murders of Medgar Evers and other civil rights workers. It is not surprising that modern black Americans are still a bit sensitive about a century of lawlessness and racial violence.
It shouldn’t come as a shock to most readers that the Republican Party has a problem with minorities. Exit polls confirm that the GOP’s performance with minorities, particularly black voters, is abysmal. When Republicans such as Cindy Hyde-Smith make comments that can be perceived as race-baiting by minority voters, it only confirms the attitudes that black voters already have about Republicans.
The thoughtless remark may also put Mississippi’s Senate seat in jeopardy. Hyde-Smith was appointed to take the place of Thad Cochran, a Republican Senator who retired earlier this year. In the election last week, she finished one point ahead of Espy in a three-way race that also included Republican Chris McDaniel. Since no candidate received a majority of votes, Hyde-Smith and Espy now face each other in a runoff.
Mississippi is typically considered a red state. It has not had a Democrat Senator since 1988, but, like many Southern states, Mississippi has a large black population that typically votes Democrat. In fact, blacks make up about 38 percent of Mississippi’s population, but only 32 percent of Mississippi voters this year were black. There's a pretty good chance that black voters might be motivated to turn out for a black Democrat over a white Republican who jokes about lynching.
Mississippi is red in large part because many of its black voters don’t show up. If the Republican Party continues to alienate black voters while its candidates simultaneously make statements that motivate black voters to get to the polls, it won’t end well for the GOP.
The Republican Party seems to have gotten the notion that it can nominate pretty much anybody in the South and they will still get elected because Democrats are worse. Donald Trump bragging about grabbing kittens? Sure. Brian Kemp pointing a gun at his daughter's beau and talking about hauling illegals in his pick-em-up truck? Fine. Ron DeSantis teaching his toddler to build a wall with blocks? Okay.
2018 should be a wakeup call for Republicans. They didn’t actually lose across the South, but they very nearly did. Kemp, DeSantis, Rick Scott, and even Ted Cruz in Texas had very narrow victories. If Republicans keep nominating people that appeal primarily to white Republicans with no regard for winning minority voters, they are probably going to start losing. The losing may begin with Cindy Hyde-Smith.
Senator Hyde-Smith should not try to defend her statement. She should apologize for making such a stupid joke. Being sensitive to how other people perceive what you say is not being politically correct. It’s being polite.
She should also go talk to some black voters. She should ask to address the state NAACP and go to some black church services. She should make visits to black neighborhoods and ask for the support of black voters. Until the GOP starts doing this, black voters will continue to support Democrats and thoughtless comments will further cement the status of blacks as a Democrat bloc.
Originally published on The Resurgent