Why Ron Paul's Racist Newsletters Didn't Hurt Him in Texas

A onetime opponent recalls trying to attack Paul on the issue a decade and a half ago -- and seeing the attempt backfire.

The fact that Texas Rep. Ron Paul once published racist sentiments in his newsletters has been known for quite some time. And yet Paul has managed to keep getting elected in his Houston-area district on the Gulf Coast. A onetime Democratic consultant in Texas, who asked that his name not be used, emails this anecdote from the 1996 general election that returned Paul to Congress after a 12-year hiatus:

At the time I was Lefty Morris' campaign manager, who was the Democrat running against Ron Paul in the general election. Our campaign released the "Ron Paul Political Report" to reporters and later focus grouped some of his writings and affiliations at a restaurant in La Grange, Texas. 

At the time, the "Ron Paul Political Report" was listed in an online Neo-Nazi Directory that also included publications by the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Brothers (or something like that). 

Of course, we thought we could use this to our advantage. So, in the focus group, we let participants look at the newsletters and told them that Ron Paul's Political Report was listed in the Neo Nazi directory with the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups. 

The focus group got really quiet. Then one man pops off, "There's nothing wrong with the Ku Klux Klan." 

Another man in the group says, "The Ku Klux Klan has done a lot of good things. For example, if a man wasn't taking care of his family, the Ku Klux Klan would take him down to the town square and tar a feather him." 

Next a woman says, "It's the media. They never report the good things that the Ku Klux Klan does." 

We had a runaway focus group on our hands. About 10 of the 12 participants were chirping their enthusiasm for the KKK. 

I groaned and sunk into my chair in the observation room, staring at the wall. And then, I noticed that the mural on the wall at the Cottonwood Restaurant, where we were conducting the focus groups, had paintings of Texas settlers killing Indians. There were Indians hanging from trees. Settlers slicing Indian throats. Children smiling at the carnage. 

It was 1996, but Texas was, well.... still Texas.

This dynamic helps to explain why, when he was first confronted with the contents of the newsletters, Paul didn't denounce them -- he defended them.

Incidentally, the first thing that comes up when you Google "Lefty Morris" these days is another alarming tale from that 1996 campaign: a former Paul staffer's story of the time Paul's campaign manager asked him to pose as an observant Jew to defend Paul from charges of anti-Semitism at a Morris press conference. Paul, for his part, has called that staffer, who in 2008 challenged him for his House seat, "a disgruntled former employee who was fired."

Image credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes
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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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