So the third-ranking Republican in the House, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), is being accused of having spoken at a white supremacist conference sponsored by David Duke back in 2002. It’s unclear whether Scalise’s apparent speech, on tax policy, went over the line into racial topics (a contemporaneous post on a site sponsored by the famous white supremacist group Stormfront suggests it did). But truth is, it’s kinda irrelevant what Scalise said, if he said anything. Speaking to a Duke-sponsored conference should be enough to disqualify him from a leadership post in the U.S. House, given the context.

In 2002, Duke was a tax fugitive spending a lot of time (and promoting anti-semitic politics) in Russia, soon to cut a deal with the IRS enabling him to come home and serve a relatively light prison sentence for tax evasion. More to the point, Scalise could have hardly have been ignorant of Duke’s activities, writings and notoriety: the globally famous ex-Klan leader and ex-Nazi was a predecessor in representing the suburban community of Metairie in the state House, before his globally famous and nearly-successful 1991 gubernatorial race.

Maybe the accounts of Scalise’s 2002 speech are wrong. But if they aren’t, let’s don’t let him or the GOP pretend he didn’t know what he was doing. In 2002 in Metairie, Louisiana David Duke and his views were as well known as Lucifer. So the smell of brimstone can still engulf those who gave him and his causes respectability.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.