In South Carolina, Confederate flag not an issue for Scott Walker

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Republican Scott Walker pledged Wednesday to scrap the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran if elected president.

The Wisconsin governor also vowed to repeal the federal health care law, mocked climate change and railed against “union bosses” in a visit to South Carolina. But Walker did not mention the Confederate battle flag, even as he praised South Carolinians for their response to the murders of nine worshipers at a historic black church.

Welcome to the new paradigm for the South’s first 2016 primary.

Walker is the first high-profile presidential candidate to campaign in South Carolina since the Civil War era battle flag was removed from the Statehouse grounds this past Friday. The result of an emotional vote in the Republican-controlled Legislature, the withdrawal of the flag from the premises came in response to the killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church; pictures of the accused gunman showed him displaying the banner that is still commonly seen throughout the Old Confederacy.

Walker praised the assembly for how South Carolinians have reacted. “You all showed how to bring people together for this region, this state and, in turn, you did it for the country,” said Walker, who formally entered the Republican presidential contest earlier in the week.

He is among many Republican White House hopefuls who have tread cautiously on the flag issue, a political flashpoint for years. The state’s influential conservatives have long viewed it as a symbol of Southern pride, while many minorities viewed the banner as a symbol of hate.

The debate played out most conspicuously in the bitter 2000 primary between George W. Bush and John McCain.

South Carolina leaders struck a compromise that year to move the flag from atop the Capitol dome to a ground-level pole where it remained until last week. Bush and McCain both declared that flying the banner was an issue of “states’ rights,” a buzz phrase that traces back to the pre-Civil War debate over slavery. Bush won that primary and the nomination; McCain later went on to disavow his position, writing in a memoir that he should have opposed its public unfurling.

As Gov. Nikki Haley — a politician who once avoided questions on the flag as well — pushed for the flag’s removal in recent weeks, presidential candidates including Walker avoided taking a firm position. Walker’s stock answer was to say he wouldn’t address it until after the victims were properly mourned.

Cindy Costa, a Republican National Committee member from Charleston, said Wednesday it is “absolutely a good thing” that the flag is down. She called it “the right thing to do” at “a sensitive time in our state’s being,” but she also celebrated that the removal dulls a political attack “that Democrats used against us.”

The debate comes as the GOP works to win over minority voters who are becoming a more powerful voice in national politics.

A Democratic leader in the Legislature summed up the GOP challenge.

Haley did “the right thing,” said state Rep. Todd Rutherford of Columbia, adding that she is “saving the Republican Party from itself — stopping all the presidential candidates from sounding silly saying the flag is a states’ rights issue and not a human rights issue.”

Walker supporters Wednesday said they were more excited to hear the Wisconsinite’s pitch on national issues anyway.

“He’s a fighter, not an establishment Republican, and that will play very well here,” said Edward Lynch, a self-employed security contractor.

Walker was thin on details, including offering no explanation of how his promise of “crippling economic sanctions” on Iran would differ from the sanctions that have been in place for years leading up to the Obama administration’s Iran deal. The pact offers trade aid and sanctions relief in exchange for Iran giving up most of its enriched uranium and granting inspections of its nuclear operations.

But Lynch said those details don’t matter. “I’m tired of the go-along-get-along politicians,” he said. “He’s got guts.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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