Cruz Mum as S.C. Chairmen Back Confederate Flag

Cruz Mum as S.C. Chairmen Back Confederate Flag
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On a campaign swing through South Carolina last weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz not only dodged the still-simmering controversy over whether to remove a Confederate flag from statehouse grounds, a proposal currently working its way through the legislature.

Cruz also avoided talking about or appearing with two of his own state chairmen, state Sen. Lee Bright and state Rep. Bill Chumley, who have been among the legislature's most vocal opponents of removing the flag. 

Neither man attended an event Saturday in Greenville, S.C., with Cruz, Cruz’s campaign confirmed. And Cruz told the Washington Post he has not talked with them about the Confederate flag controversy.

Bright’s and Chumley’s advocacy puts them in the minority among South Carolina lawmakers and in conflict with the state’s most senior elected officials, including Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley, who support taking the flag down.

That could leave Cruz in a tough spot. South Carolina is a pivotal, if not a must-win state for the Texas Republican, who ranks fourth among Republicans there in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

So far, he has remained neutral. "The issue should be decided by South Carolinians, not by those from other states parachuting in to lecture the citizens on how to resolve this question of state law," Cruz told the Washington Post.

This week, the South Carolina Senate voted in favor of removing the flag.

But if Cruz has ducked taking a position himself, Bright’s remarks in particular have left little room for interpretation. 

“In South Carolina, we know what this flag symbolizes: resistance against a federal, centralized power that far overreached its constitutional limits,” Bright said in a statement last month. “It proudly symbolizes states’ rights and constitutional liberties, which many have fought and died for.”

Bright has also sought to use the issue for political purposes, offering supporters a Confederate flag bumper sticker with the phrase “Keep Your Hands Off My Flag” in exchange for donations to his campaign fund.

But Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler said Bright’s advocacy has been of “no concern” to Cruz’s campaign for president.

“Sen. Cruz has consistently said that this was an issue for South Carolinians to resolve for themselves and didn’t need outsiders weighing in,” Tyler said. “Sen. Bright is a South Carolinian so it is altogether appropriate that he take and advocate his position.”

Chumley, for his part, told RealClearPolitics he has fielded “no complaints” from Cruz’s campaign about supporting the flag.

“For me, my first obligation is to the people of South Carolina,” Chumley said, “and this is my job, so I’m just doing it to the best of my ability.”

For Cruz, it might not be a net political negative to hold off on taking a position, however. A recent CNN/ORC poll found that most Americans, 57 percent, still view the Confederate battle flag as a “symbol of Southern pride,” not of racism.

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.

 

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