Young Republicans Scandal

Why Republicans should care about this internecine spat.

It's the scandal that's rocking your world. If you happen to be young(ish), a recent college grad, a Republican, and a political activist. One of the leading candidates for president of the Young Republicans National Federation is being lambasted for alleged racial and anti-gay prejudices a week before the election. Skeptics detect a "pattern emerging from the fringe of the GOP grassroots." It's a sideshow -- one that, absent a technological medium to spread word about it and people to summon their outrage, would be nothing more interesting than an internecine political quarrel.

The story is this: friend of candidate "A" posts racist thoughts on candidate A's Facebook wall. Candidate "A" responds with a "you tell 'em, LOL"   Subsequent to that, it's discovered that candidate "A" commented beneath a picture of a Halloween festival, "What, no Obama in a noose?" and then wondered whether liberals would get mad if Republicans posted a picture of "homosexuals in a noose," as a counterweight to a picture she'd seen of Sarah Palin in a noose.

Here's why Republicans should take this seriously. A double standard exists in American politics. Republicans have much less of a margin for error when it comes to making racially insensitive remarks. That may be fair, given the party's recent history (not its most recent history, but its Southern strategy history), or it may not be, but it exists, and it's a given, and Republicans who feel they ought not be judged by a different standard might as well move to a different country.

The Young Republican National Federation is little known outside the Republican world, but it is a fertile source of activists for the party; with the absence of young and dynamic party voices, YRNF officials go on to bigger and better things; the organization, while much attenuated (and scandal-plagued) in recent years, is the largest collection of professional young Republicans in the country. The RNC needs younger voices; the YRNF provides them.

The YRNF presidential race is a microcosm of the internal debates the party is having throughout the country. It's not easily categorized. One presidential candidate, Rachel Hoff, calls her campaign "Team Next Level."  She's recruited a diverse roster of co-candidates and wants to broaden the party's reach. Hoff recently announced her personal support for civil unions. Hoff is a coalition-builder before she's an in-your-face activist.   Hoff's opponent, Audra Shay, is the young woman whose flippancy in the face of racism is the main current of the race. Shay, a hard-changing veteran and former police officer, calls her campaign "Team Renewal," and her platform consists of a 16 point pledge to increase accountability and transparency in the organization. Both candidates have endorsements from party conservatives and moderates. Shay is generally seen as the more personally conservative of the two, although the difference is really only visible on a couple of social issues. Age is also relevant, although obliquely; Shay is 38 -- about as old as a "young" Republican can get; Hoff is 10 years younger. Some younger Republicans want to take the YRNF back from the older young Republicans.

Shay has apologized for her comments. Hoff's team, which apparently played no role in discovering the comments or in spreading them, has kept silent.  But Shay's credibility as a messenger has been damaged, and it will be interesting to see whether Young Republicans penalize her this Saturday.