Amid widespread calls to take down the Confederate flag that flies outside the South Carolina statehouse, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning that he does not think presidential candidates should talk about it.
“I still think it’s not an issue for a person running for president,” Huckabee said. “Everyone’s being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president.”
The flag has come to attention recently, after a white gunman shot and killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, last week. Pictures posted online show the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, posing with a gun and a Confederate flag. The flag is widely considered a symbol of racism.
“I don’t think [the American people] want us to weigh in on every little issue in all 50 states that might be an important issue to the people of that state but not on the desk of the president,” Huckabee said.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of people reportedly gathered outside the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, to rally for the flag’s removal.
— Charli James (@charli) June 20, 2015
Other high-profile Republicans are weighing in on the “little issue,” though. Former Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney spoke out on Twitter,calling for the removal of the Confederate flag, “a symbol of racial hatred.”
Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, also addressed the controversy. During Bush’s governorship, he removed the flag from the Florida state Capitol, and on Saturday, Bush tweeted, “My position on how to address the Confederate flag is clear… there will rightly be a discussion among leaders in the state about how South Carolina should move forward, and I’m confident they will do the right thing.”
Rubio said he supported the 2001 removal of the flag in Florida, but similarly deferred to the people of South Carolina to make their own decision.
Huckabee, on the other hand, seemed to suggest that condemning the flag was painting all South Carolinians as racist.
“The question underlying all of this is, that we’re asking, is South Carolina a racist state because of the flag that flies on their capitol grounds?” he said.
He pointed out that many South Carolinians have expressed compassion and condolences following the shooting.
“I don’t think you could say that the presence of one lunatic racist, who everybody in this country feels contempt for, and no one is defending, is somehow evidence of the people of South Carolina,” Huckabee said.
On Friday, Republican South Carolina State Representative Norman “Doug” Brannon announced that he plans to sponsor legislation to take down the Confederate flag from the front of the state Capitol. It may take some time to see progress on this issue, though. Brannon said he will pre-file the bill before the legislature returns to session in December.
The flag was first mounted on the statehouse in 1961, at the centennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War and also coinciding with the early stages of the civil rights movement, ThinkProgress’s Jack Jenkins pointed out. In 2000, the flag was removed from the top of the South Carolina statehouse and mounted, instead, in front of the building.