Americans don’t hang their political opponents. They try to beat them at the ballot box. But in the charged 2020 campaign, it was only a matter of time before the raw rhetoric of Washington and toxic effluent from the undrained swamp percolated down to the local level.
Two local Republican figures in Tampa Bay the past week suggested hanging President Donald Trump’s political opponents. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Contorno reported Wednesday, the campaign of George Buck, a St. Petersburg Republican hoping to unseat Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, sent a fundraising letter suggesting that a member of the House of Representatives and other Democrats be executed. That appeal followed a Facebook post, first reported by the alt-weekly publication Creative Loafing, in which Hillsborough County Republican Party chairman Jim Waurishuk wrote: “Need some hangin’s," accompanied by a meme of three nooses with the words “Noose flash: Treason still punishable by death.”
The president has made a cottage industry of labeling his critics and detractors -- whether Democrats, the media or even law enforcement -- as traitors. But these reckless statements have largely been quarantined, as with a contagious outbreak, thanks to the rational response by most Americans -- and let’s be clear, that includes most Republicans -- who see such tirades as self-serving.
That’s why the embarrassment Buck and Waurishuk brought to the region and to the Republican Party was so abhorrent. It would be one thing if they were fringe figures spouting off on social media from the basement. But Buck was the GOP nominee against Crist in 2018, winning more than 42 percent of the vote, and he is one of six Republicans in Pinellas running again for Florida’s 13th congressional district. Waurishuk heads the Republican Party in the third-largest city in the nation’s third-largest state. These are grown men with portfolios who should know better and behave as adults. Republican leaders were right to immediately disavow their comments.
Buck told the Times he didn’t write the email, blaming his campaign manager. Memo to candidate: You are the campaign. Especially when you sign the fundraising pitch. Waurishuk deflected his antics, too, saying the post was a joke shared on his private Facebook page.
National Republicans responded appropriately by distancing themselves from Buck; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to remove Buck as one of the party’s “Young Guns," a Republican recruitment program that trains and supports candidates in competitive House races. And Todd Jennings, the chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party, said on Facebook: “There is no room for this kind of inflammatory rhetoric in either political party.” Good for them.
But Buck needs to give Pinellas Republicans a substantive argument for supporting him and show why he’d appeal more to a cross-section in any general election rematch with Crist. Waurishuk, for his part, needs to leave the comedy circuit and focus on recruiting Republicans who can compete in Hillsborough, given the shellacking his party has taken in recent local elections.
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No single candidate or partisan organizer reflects an entire political party, and Republican leaders and voters can repudiate such behavior and show unequivocally that this does not represent who they are.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news