Robert Schlesinger ponders the likelihood of a Republican presidential candidate offering up a “Sister Souljah moment.”
Back in the summer of 1992, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton criticized rapper Sister Souljah after she made offensive remarks about blacks killing whites instead of each other. The moment quickly entered the political lexicon as shorthand for a politician rebuking an extremist in his or her base in order to demonstrate to independents that they are not beholden to the party’s core special interests.
And judging by the disintegrating GOP brand, the party’s 2012 standard bearer will need such a moment once the candidate clears the primaries. However, none seems capable of executing such a pivot.
But boy do they need to.
The very idea seems hard to even imagine. In 1992, about six months before Election Day, Clinton attended an event organized by Jesse Jackson to criticize Sister Souljah’s comments, which came in the wake of Los Angeles riots. It’s hard to say with any certainty how much of an impact the remarks had on the presidential race, but Clinton certainly generated a lot of attention at the time for taking the stand.
Perhaps the only comparable example came eight years later, when then-sensible Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to Virginia Beach to denounce radical televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance,” McCain said at the time.
The right was not pleased, and McCain’s presidential campaign never recovered. (Eight years later, the senator said he’d changed his mind, and cozied up to Falwell, even after Falwell blamed 9/11 on Americans.)
What are the odds that Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, or Michele Bachmann is going to deliberately denounce a key Republican constituency? The very idea is so fanciful, I suspect it’s more likely they’d consider me for their vice presidential short-list.