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Divert, deny, distract: The Republican way

By Donna Brazile
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
Rancher Cliven Bundy, right, leaves the podium with bodyguards after a news conference near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, on Thursday, April 24. Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management have been locked in a dispute for a couple of decades over grazing rights on public lands. Rancher Cliven Bundy, right, leaves the podium with bodyguards after a news conference near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, on Thursday, April 24. Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management have been locked in a dispute for a couple of decades over grazing rights on public lands.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile says when it comes to race, the GOP has a simple game plan
  • Divert, deny, distract, says Brazile, are the tactics they use most frequently
  • Their reaction to comments made by rancher Cliven Bundy are another example, she says

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- In beating a hasty retreat from Cliven Bundy, their onetime Lonesome Cowboy icon, Republicans have resorted to a familiar tactic: divert, deny, distract.

Divert attention by claiming the "media" made a story out of Cliven Bundy. The "media" plucked him out of obscurity, baited him with questions about race, and then blew the story out of proportion.

Deny having defended, supported and promoted Bundy -- despite the recorded evidence -- with faux outrage and feigned offense.

Divert by talking about how much the only racism left in America is the talk about racism. That's one of the points Tara Wall makes in her op-ed attacking CNN for its coverage of Bundy and his self-declared "Range War."

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

But sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "I can't hear you" didn't make problems go away when we were 5-year-olds on a playground. And saying that if we just stop talking about race, there won't be any racial bias, doesn't make it so.

Look, I get it. Talking about the racial reality in America makes some powerful people uncomfortable. It shows in Chief Justice John Roberts' argument that a nonexistent colorblindness justifies the Supreme Court's gutting of affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act.

Most Americans aren't hateful, and many who are, like Cliven Bundy, don't see themselves in the mirror. But there's still a racial bias in this country that holds back talented Americans who aren't white.

What Justice Sonia Sotomayor said about the judiciary applies to all of us. If we believe in the guarantee of equal protection, then "we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society."

"Wishing away" leads to a denial, and denial of history is, unfortunately, part of Tara Wall's appeal to history. Yes, President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, but a hundred years later the Republican Party wasn't Lincoln's.

Richard Nixon became president by courting Americans upset by integration, intentionally fueling the racial divide.

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In his first speech after winning the Republican nomination in 1980, Ronald Reagan, said he believed "in states' rights." This at the Neshoba County Fair, just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered.

In 2005, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman formally apologized for this "Southern Strategy." This would have been great, if only they'd stopped using it. But they haven't.

Here's the proof. Or more proof. Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" said pretty much the same thing Cliven Bundy did. Republicans didn't chastise him. They celebrated him. In fact, some Republicans invited "Duck Dynasty" cast members to this year's State of the Union address to show their support.

The Republican elected officials and their allies supported Bundy's cause célèbre with their actions and rhetoric from the beginning.

Before he wondered if "Blacks might not be better off as slaves," Bundy received support and encouragement from three Republican senators, two of them (Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) with presidential ambitions. Nevada's Republican senator, Dean Heller, referred to Bundy and his supporters as patriots before retracting.

And then there's the list of state and local Republicans around the country who supported Bundy, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another presidential aspirant.

Bundy felt comfortable lecturing a reporter about race and slavery because for weeks he'd been puffed up by right-leaning media outlets, potential Republican presidential candidates, and current GOP officeholders. That's why he was even on the media's radar.

And speaking of the media, here's another dot to connect.

In April, before this most recent controversy sparked, Fox News mentioned Cliven Bundy 458 times. Sean Hannity -- who said Bundy was a "friend and frequent guest" -- interviewed Bundy at length, more than a half-dozen times, about his confrontation with the federal government.

It was all part of a concerted effort to turn a racist welfare rancher into a folk hero.

Why?

MediaMatters.org and others report that "Hannity receives major funding and large ad buys from Koch-affiliated Heritage and Tea Party Patriots."

That's significant because the Koch Brothers and their affiliates want to "transfer control of federal lands to states" so that they can "use the land in whichever way is most profitable to them such as mining, drilling, and other resource extraction."

It's a shame a little racism gets in the way of profits and power grabs.

That Republicans eventually got around to denouncing Bundy's racist, pro-slavery statement, after conspicuous silence, doesn't change the fact they have a history of promoting people like Robertson and Bundy. It doesn't change the fact that they're still advocating an agenda fueled by hatred and fear.

It's time for Republicans to stop posing and look in the mirror. They can't light a fire under a pot and then feign outrage when it boils over.

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