In the late 1980’s, David Duke began to “moderate” certain aspects of his infamous past in order to appeal to mainstream conservative voters. Gone were the overt references to race; they would be replaced by Nixonian-George Wallace style “dog whistle” politics. This uses racially tinged code words that speak to the fear and resentment that the poor and working class whites have towards minorities. Duke also eliminated all public statements regarding Zionism, or a bogus Jewish conspiracy to control the races. He certainly couldn’t afford to be linked to his favorite pastime–Holocaust denial. So… this with a little hair makeover and what seems to be minor plastic surgery, Duke was ready to make his move into mainstream politics.
In 1989, several factors seemed to align that made his ascent possible. He decided to run for the state Legislature from District 81 in Metairie. To that aim, he changed his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. This is a highly conservative, and somewhat affluent area that was very open to a guy like Duke. Secondly, he had the perfect opponent. John Treen was by most accounts a good man. But he was so uncharismatic that he probably couldn’t win an election even if he were running against himself. He did have some name recognition; his brother was former Louisiana Governor Dave Treen. John was expected to have an easy time winning the seat. Well… that’s not exactly how things would go down.
The race attracted national attention and was sort of an embarrassment to the Republican Party. Though no one who had been paying attention to the former party of Lincoln since 1964 could figure out why? The GOP through a plethora of moves, policies, and actions had long established itself as the champion of the white working class man. That wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t played on racial fears, resentment, and class envy.
See “How the GOP became the white man’s party”– Salon.com
Treen had received the endorsement of many in the Republican establishment including his brother, Dave, President George H.W Bush, and even the patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan.
Some Democrats crossed party lines to endorse Treen, but ultimately–it was no use. Treen lost in a close election. Duke had finally achieved something that he had long craved–mainstream relevance. But America’s homegrown Hitler wouldn’t be satisfied with just being a state rep–his ambitions were too great; his America needed a leader. His America needed David Duke.
In the final part of A Refresher Course on David Duke, we will examine how he gained international attention, and how his Nazi past came back to destroy him.
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