Following a racially motivated mass shooting at a historically African-American church in South Carolina last Wednesday, politicians and faith leaders have led a renewed call to remove the Confederate flag to be from the South Carolina state capitol grounds.
Most Republican candidates, after initially balking, have acknowledged that race was a motivating factor for Dylann Roof, the lead suspect in the shooting that left nine people dead.
But the candidates have had less clear answers to questions about the Confederate flag. Those questions starting coming more in earnest after former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who holds considerable sway in the party, released an unsolicited statement calling for its removal and dubbing it a “symbol of racial hatred.”
Here’s where the candidates and prospective candidates stand on the issue of racial motivation and the Confederate flag.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R)
Bush was forced to clarify his position after the former governor said that he wasn’t completely sure what was on Roof’s mind. Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted later that the governor’s quote was taken out of context, and that the former Bush believed that racism motivated the shooting.
Bush would not say explicitly that the flag should be taken down, but over the weekend he said that South Carolina should “do the right thing,” and pointed to his own decision to remove the flag from the Florida capitol in 2001.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R)
Walker said that he wanted to make it “abundantly clear” that the shooting was an act of racism.
But according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin governor is refusing to weigh in on the Confederate flag issue until after the funeral.
“I think they’re going to have a good healthy debate and should have that debate in South Carolina amongst officials at the state level,” Walker said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
According to The New York Times, Mr. Rubio said that the massacre was “an act motivated by racial hatred.”
Earlier this week, Rubio said that he hoped that the state would “make the right choice” on the Confederate flag, but also maintained that it’s not up to “outsiders.”
“This is an issue that they should debate and work through and not have a bunch of outsiders going in and telling them what to do,” Rubio said, according to The Washington Post. The Post also noted that as a state legislator, Rubio supported a bill that would have kept the flag flying over the capitol.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania)
The former Pennsylvania senator initially maintained that the shooting was part of a larger assault on religious liberty. But he shifted his rhetoric as more details emerged, telling The Huffington Post that the attack was “clearly” racially motivated. But Santorum dodged the Confederate flag issue, saying that presidential candidates shouldn’t weigh in on everything.
“I don’t think the federal government or federal candidates should be making decisions on everything and opining on everything,” Santorum said, according to Think Progress. “We should let the people of South Carolina go through the process of making this decision.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
The Texas senator said that the shooting “appears to be racially driven.”
Cruz told The Associated Press that South Carolina doesn’t need “people from outside of the state coming in and dictating how they should resolve it.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R)
Huckabee declined to answer whether he thought the flag should be taken down, saying Republicans were being unfairly baited into answering a question that doesn’t have anything to do with the presidency.
“It’s not an issue for someone running for president,” Huckabee said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Everyone’s being baited with this question as if it has anything to do whatsoever with running for president.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)
Jindal told ABC News that the flag issue should be left up to the states. The Louisiana governor also said that he did not know whether the shooting was racially motivated.
“Law enforcement will figure out what his so-called motivations were,” Jindal said, according to The Washington Post. “We shouldn’t try to pretend we’ll understand his mind. I’d love to tell you there’s some predictable line between A and B.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Graham released a statement over the weekend in which he said there was “no doubt” the shooting was racially motivated, adding that the “scars of our history are still with us today.”
“This murderer said he wanted to start a race war; he has failed miserably,” Graham said. “In Charleston this weekend, I saw a community coming together. I saw people seeking solace in what they share together, not in what makes them different.”
Graham said that it is time to “revisit” the decision to fly the Confederate flag over South Carolina’s capitol. The Hill reported Monday that Graham would join Haley in calling for its removal.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
The former Texas Governor had the largest stumble of the 2016 candidates, initially calling the shooting an “accident.”
Perry wouldn’t say explicitly whether the Confederate flag should come down, but he acknowledged that the flag is a divisive symbol.
“I think a governor’s job should be one to bring people together, not to divide them, and I think the Confederate battle flag is clearly one of those that divides people,” Perry told Real Clear Politics.
In an op-ed in USA Today published on Monday, the retired neurosurgeon challenged others in the Republican field to call the attack racist.
“There are people who are claiming that they can lead this country who dare not call this tragedy an act of racism, a hate crime, for fear of offending a particular segment of the electorate,” Carson wrote, linking to tepid early remarks from Graham and Bush.
On Fox, Carson agreed that it’s up to South Carolina to decide what to do with the Confederate flag.
“The Confederate flag causes a lot of people angst and they are not able to see beyond that,” Carson said, according to CNN. “I think the people of South Carolina should sit down and have an intelligent discussion about what can they use that captures their heritage, captures the heritage of America and allows them to coexist in peace.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)
In a speech on Sunday, Christie lashed out at candidates who weren’t willing to admit that race was a motivating factor in the attack.
“This hate is born of racism,” Christie said. “We must say that out loud.”
“I hear too many people in the past couple of days acting as if they don’t understand,” Christie added.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)
Kasich did not explicitly say whether the attack was racially motivated, but did say that he’d take the flag down.
According to Cleveland.com, Kasich said that the flag issue “is up to the people of South Carolina to decide, but if I were a citizen of South Carolina I’d be for taking it down.”