Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) hosted a “Constitution Day” rally with right-wing shock jock Mark Levin on Tuesday, in support of his campaign to be Virginia’s next governor. But his campaign struggled to respond when a prominent Republican district chairman kicked off the rally with an anti-Semitic joke.
John Whitbeck, the chairman of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District Republican Committee, started the event by noting that he is a Catholic and that those in his faith recently celebrated the new Pope. He told a lengthy joke about a tradition in which the “head of the Jewish faith goes to the Vatican and brings a ceremonial piece of paper” to the new Pontiff:
WHITBECK: This time around, the Pope says, “I gotta find out what’s on this piece of paper.” So he actually takes it from the head of the Jewish faith, he opens it, he looks at, he closes it, he grimaces. And his Jewish counterpart says, “What what is?” And he says, “Well, that was the bill from the Last Supper.” So, on that note, we’re waiting for Ken Cuccinelli and he’s on his way.
Watch the video:
While Cuccinelli was not present to hear Whitbeck’s remarks, his did not denounce the joke in his speech nor immediately afterward.
Cuccinelli campaign strategist Chris LaCivita, who handled media strategy for the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, tried to distance the campaign from its supporter. “I don’t even know who the guy is,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s wholly inappropriate and not connected to the campaign. And it’s not reflective of Ken Cuccinelli.”
But in May, an activist tweeted a photo of Whitbeck, giving one of the nomination speeches for Cuccinelli at the state Republican convention. Whitbeck’s own Twitter feed and the 10th District Committee’s Facebook page show him with Cuccinelli at numerous campaign events. And, as Ben Tribbett noted on his Not Larry Sabato blog, Cuccinelli’s political director worked closely with Whitbeck to win the 10th district committee elections in 2012 in order to take over the Republican State Central Committee — a key component of his strategy to change the nomination process in Cuccinelli’s favor.
Amazingly, the Cuccinelli campaign also posted the Post article — noting the Whitbeck comment — on its campaign news page.
The Jewish Daily Forward slammed Whitbeck for combining “two of the most toxic anti-Jewish stereotypes into a single punchline: God-killers [and] Cheapskates.” Also, Whitbeck demonstrates a stunning ignorance of Judaism in suggesting that there is a Pope-like “head of the Jewish faith.” There is not.
The Cuccinelli campaign did not respond to a ThinkProgress request for additional comment.
Cuccinelli told the Richmond Times Dispatch, a day after the event, that he thinks the Whitbeck’s joke “was inappropriate,” adding, “It’s certainly unfortunate and something if I had heard it at the time, I would have spoken to right there. Certainly not an appropriate thing to carry into the public discussion we’re having.”