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GOP faces identity crisis as some candidates stoke racial divide

This year, a handful of GOP congressional candidates have openly expressed or supported racist views, opening up a divide in the party over how to address the issue and who Republicans want to be. Lisa Desjardins takes us inside a Virginia Senate race, where candidate Corey Stewart is a polarizing figure.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to a sharp divided for Republicans over race.

    This year, a handful of GOP congressional candidates have openly expressed racist views. Others in the party disagree over how and how often to address the issue.

    Lisa Desjardins reports from Virginia.

    And a warning, this story includes some disturbing, violent and racist content.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In a neatly appointed home in Northern Virginia, potential donors are sizing up an unconventional candidate, Corey Stewart.

    The GOP nominee for U.S. Senate is a divisive figure, loved by some conservative as ardently anti-illegal immigration and pro-Trump.

  • Corey Stewart:

    We will be supporting the president. We're going to be bringing back manufacturing jobs.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But detested by others in the Republican Party as someone they see as stoking racial divide.

  • Corey Stewart:

    What makes crimes committed by illegal aliens so especially heinous and so especially tragic is that it's 100 percent preventable.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Stewart flatly denies accusations of racism.

  • Corey Stewart:

    I think Republicans, including myself, we're always saying we absolutely disavow racism. We absolutely disavow any sort of bigotry or racism.

    What the Republican Party needs to stand for is making sure that the quality of life for average working Americans improves.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But early last year, he supported Paul Nehlen, an anti-Semite who ran for Congress in Wisconsin. And, a month later, Stewart appeared with Jason Kessler, a white nationalist.

  • White Supremacists:

    You will not replace us!

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Kessler later organized a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where a protester was killed by a white nationalist driving into the crowd.

    Stewart insists he didn't know the men's views at the time, and he has disavowed them.

    When he took the Facebook with his own views on Charlottesville. Stewart blamed liberals and didn't mention white nationalists. He said conservatives were under attack.

  • Corey Stewart:

    Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Charlottesville, there will be those in the left, the media, the Democrats, the liberals, who will use this as an excuse to further crack down on conservative speech.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The national Republican Party is not supporting Stewart, but he's far from their biggest nightmare.

    In New Jersey, Republican congressional nominee Seth Grossman shared a racist article saying that black people are "a threat to all who cross their paths."

    Another Republican congressional nominee, John Fitzgerald in California, has focused his campaign on denying the Holocaust. In Illinois, there's neo-Nazi Arthur Jones, who ran unopposed in his GOP congressional primary.

    And in North Carolina, state house candidate Russell Walker's Web site charges that Jews are the children of Satan.

    In all of these races, state and national Republican parties have withdrawn support for the candidates.

  • John Whitbeck:

    We have got to distance ourselves at every single turn as emphatically as we can from anything related to white nationalism.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    John Whitbeck is the former chairman of the Virginia Republican Party. He stepped down from that position shortly after Corey Stewart won the nomination.

  • John Whitbeck:

    Our ideas are the right ones for everybody, from — from Muslims, to Indian Americans, to South Asians, to African-Americans. And that's what we got to get back to as a party quickly.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is a deep identity divide.

    Stewart sees race as a political weapon used by Democrats. A Minnesota native, he showed us his historic colonial era home in Northern Virginia.

    Stewart points to the diversity of his county, where he's repeatedly then elected chairman of the board of supervisors.

  • Corey Stewart:

    I have been having my ear to the ground and won four elections here. And I could not have done that if not for the support of people in my community of all races, of all religions, of all ethnicities.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We talked at length, and he gave direct, skeptical views not usually spoken out loud by politicians.

    Are you — are you questioning whether there is a movement of people in this country who are white nationalists?

  • Corey Stewart:

    Yes, I — what I'm saying is, I haven't seen it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    If you're saying that America has moved past race, do you think that a person of color faces any limitations because of their color now, or has America moved past it?

  • Corey Stewart:

    No, I think, for the most part, I really don't believe that most of our issues are due to race. I think that, look…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And you think, like, an individual who is black or Hispanic doesn't have fewer opportunities?

  • Corey Stewart:

    No, I don't believe that at all.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK.

  • Corey Stewart:

    I think it has to do with socioeconomics.

  • Steven Taylor:

    This person is full of baloney.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Steven Taylor is a political science professor at American University. He points out racism has been woven into campaigns since the nation began. Taylor doesn't believe Republicans like Stewart who say that they or their party have moved past race.

  • Steven Taylor:

    Does Mr. Post-Racial want me to live on his street, or does Mr. Post-Racial want seven of 10 people on his street to look like me? He probably doesn't.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You think that idea is just a cover-up?

  • Steven Taylor:

    I think is a lie. You believe that, you believe that the Easter Bunny is coming on Easter and Santa Claus is coming on Christmas Eve.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Meantime, in the past month, voters in Florida and Iowa received racist robo-calls from a white nationalist group.

    In Florida, the cause portrayed Andrew Gillum, the black Democratic nominee for governor, as a minstrel caricature.

  • Man:

    Well, hello there. I is Andrew Gillum. And I be the mayor of Tallahassee.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And, of course, the highest-ranking Republican, President Donald Trump, has repeatedly use sharp words about race.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they have ever been in before, ever, ever, ever.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Some see this kind of talk as defying political correctness. Others say it's offensive.

    Some, like supporters of Corey Stewart, see racism as exaggerated.

  • Herb Lanese:

    If you don't agree with me, you're a racist or you're a Nazi. I mean, come on. Give me a break. Give me a break.

  • Corey Stewart:

    I seem to draw a lot of protesters out.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But other Republicans see a serious party problem, allowing and stoking hate. It is an identity crisis spilling onto the ballot this fall over who Republicans are and who they want to be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, a lot of important reporting there.

    What do these racial overtones tell us about the midterms this year? Do you expect race is going to be actually an issue in these campaigns?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It depends on where you're looking.

    But, overall, the NAACP did a survey, and they said that African-American voters do think this year's midterms is more important than in 2014. They believe turnout will be up. And that's important for Democrats, which is where African-Americans usually vote, because Democrats saw that turnout of minorities go down two years ago.

    That helped President Trump, actually. So there's that, the turnout issue. And then there's also candidates of color who are running, who seem to be helping other Democrats on the ballot, including Andrew Gillum in Florida.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you mentioned the Republican Party.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You interviewed the former chair of the party in Virginia.

    What is the party officially think about all this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It runs the gamut.

    In some cases, we have seen the national party have a very clear message, and, in the case of New Jersey, saying bigotry cannot be accepted here, we will not accept this candidate.

    That is Seth Grossman running for Congress.

    In North Carolina, however, the state party was a little more gentle and saying, because of this man's past actions, we are — separated himself.

    Now, I also want to say it's not always the party in control here. In the case of Illinois, where we have the neo-Nazi Arthur Jones is running, he has openly said that he has snookered the Republican Party, that he's using them for his own ends. And in that case, the Republican Party ran ads against him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, and, finally, what do you think Corey Stewart, the candidate for the Senate in Virginia, what does his candidacy — what does he say about where we are on all this?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This wasn't an easy story to report because it's very complicated. And so is Corey Stewart.

    He is someone who is convinced that he is not racist. And there are no overtly racist statements ever attached to him. But he did associate with people who were clearly on the fringe.

    And on the other hand, he's got a diverse county, and he does participate and connect with all these communities.

    But I think what he expressed to me in the interview were thoughts that I had heard from white politicians, just not on camera before. These are thoughts that I think are common in the Republican Party, that they think white people are held to a different standard.

    Now, I think these thoughts are also something that are controversial for minorities, who see them as not helpful and in some cases racist.

    My conclusion from a lot of this reporting is that the conversations are getting farther apart. Here was a man who says he's not racist, but I don't think he hears what the minority community is saying right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it is an important story, complicated story.

    Thank you, Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And more online too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And more online.

    Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

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