U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski slammed his principal rival in the CD-7 race, former Senator Tom Kean, Jr., urging him to condemn his endorsement by New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R) in a statement. Stefanik is a figure who is characterized by opponents as a white supremacist supporter of “great replacement theory.” This accusation stems from her comments that the Democrats have been planning “election insurrection” by granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. A campaign ad claimed that “radical” Democrats were looking to “overthrow our current electorate” which many interpret as meaning a white majority of voters. The purpose? To create a “liberal majority.”
The Malinowski charge against Kean comes after a racially-motivated massacre at a Tops Friendly Store in Buffalo, NY, on May 14. The suspect is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, a self-described white supremacist whose Bushmaster XM-15 rifle was illegally modified and covered in racist graffiti, even bearing the names of figures like Dylan Roof. Roof, it will be remembered, is a young white supremacist who shot up a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, in 2015, killing 9 and injuring 1. Gendron is alleged to have killed 10 and injured 3 as of this writing.
By Malinowski pointing to Stefanik’s endorsement of Kean, the congressman asserts that if Kean does not repudiate the endorsement, his silence represents acceptance of “great replacement theory.”
To clarify, the formerly-extreme-fringe “great replacement theory” is the false belief that the white population in America is being deliberately reduced and replaced by design, often attributed to a shadowy Jewish conspiracy, to permanently change the fabric of American society.
Such notions used to invite dismissive eye-rolls, but these days, however, thanks to commentators like Tucker Carlson and others, the theory is no longer the sole purview of the tin-foil hat crowd. It has entered the general discourse as the integrity and quality of American politics continues to disintegrate and degrade: a once powerful source of illumination and civic energy now an old battery leaking caustic paranoid acid into every crevice.
Stefanik has denied the accusations that she is a racist and condemned the Buffalo attack. She has also repeatedly said that she has tried to broaden the GOP by bringing in more minority voters.
Democrats aren’t buying it, however. Language is nuanced—or would be if it was still valued. Alertness to dog whistles is increasingly a factor when interpreting political discourse, and while some instances can be an innocent word choice on the part of the speaker, it is dangerously naïve to play ignorant for the sake of not offending legitimately bad people. When Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell failed to explicitly condemn replacement theory, but rather deflected and condemned President Biden’s border policy, he generally put down “racism” as a whole. But he either missed an opportunity to assert some control over the increasingly chaotic Republican discourse, failed to comprehend the nature of the question, or is unwilling to alienate the segment of society which is sympathetic to the views of people like Gendron and Roof.
If some politicians and candidates decide to exhume the corpse of William Dudley Pelley and start wearing silver shirts to rallies, would McConnell simply appreciate the broadened political base? If put to the question, it would not be surprising if he simply spun it as plucky red-blooded American enthusiasts with a peculiar-but-particular fashion trend. After all, who is to say what people do and say on their own time?
Kean occupies a unique position for absorbing attacks. While the media-shy Kean is being accused by Democrat Malinowski of tacitly supporting great replacement theory by failing to reject the endorsement of a New York congresswoman who may or may not be employing dangerous language, he is also being targeted by the MAGA-right for, amazingly, being endorsed by the daughter of neo-con Vice President Dick Cheney.
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming has been excoriated by the Republican Party for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump and consistently condemning his role and support in the January 6 insurrection. Though her voting record would sour the stomach of any liberal, she is persona-non-grata in MAGAland. This is regardless of the fact that January 6 was an insurrection which saw rioters set up a gallows for Republican Vice President Mike Pence—one of the few top-level figures in the Trump administration not to be fired and replaced during the 2016-2020 period.
As CD-7 Republican candidate John Flora seeks to win the primary against the frontrunner, he has attempted to smear Kean as a “RINO” along with Cheney. Cheney has few friends in the GOP these days, and apparently doesn’t care about her political popularity with respect to what she sees as the right thing. She and her father, along with one aide, were the only Republicans to attend a House commemoration of the January 6 attack one year later. Following the Buffalo shooting, Cheney accused the House GOP leadership of enabling “white nationalism, white supremacy and antisemitism”. She tweeted that the leaders must reject such things and not support those who do not.
Where does this leave Kean? Lacking a specific statement, nowhere. On one hand, Kean is painted as a white supremacist via his endorsement by Stefanik, and on the other hand, he is depicted as a “RINO” because Liz Cheney thinks he is the best choice in CD-7’s disappointing race-to-the-bottom. Flora called Cheney “dangerous” and predicted that if Kean wins the primary, it will “prove his downfall” although in no specific terms.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who helped establish the United States Holocaust Museum in the nation’s capital, said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.“
Kean should use this opportunity to make himself heard on something—take a side. The tight-lipped approach he has generally employed has given him some leeway by virtue of his name recognition, and in avoiding alienating certain voters by simply not saying anything. At the same time, a leader can only prove himself worthy of office if he is willing to make a stand. Malinowski has given him an opportunity, and an easy one, to make a statement that will cost zero political capital worth retaining.
The situation presented by Malinowski to Kean should not be difficult. Kean can easily tell the incumbent that he does not believe in or support great replacement theory and be done with it. He can decide whether he wishes to comment on the implications of Stefanik’s endorsement, but he could just as easily say that she does not influence his beliefs or campaign—she isn’t even from New Jersey, after all. If he does, in fact, support great replacement theory, as Malinowski’s deliberate prodding is meant to imply, then let him say as much and get it on record. Democrats can then take careful note of who rallies around Kean and who does not. Either way, Kean needs to make his positions known and clear since, to echo Wiesel, silence encourages the tormentor.