Marty McClendon calls opponent ‘not a Christian’ during 2016 TV appearance
My wife has a saying she returns to often when dealing with our children.
“Don’t apologize,” she’ll proclaim, when one of our children has done something stupid for the 800th time.
“Just stop doing it.”
I was reminded of my wife’s words, thanks to Marty McClendon.
McClendon is a Republican state Senate candidate, a Gig Harbor Realtor and the former chairman of the Pierce County Republican Party. He’s locked in one of the most-important races in the state, facing off against Democrat Emily Randall in the 26th Legislative District.
For Republicans, holding onto this seat — which is being vacated by outgoing GOP Sen. Jan Angel — is paramount. There’s a lot at stake.
With Democrats aiming to increase their slim control of the Senate, they’ve targeted the 26th District as ripe for flipping.
That remains to be seen. But, as a story by The News Tribune’s Walker Orenstein illuminated, McClendon’s past words and decisions should be, at the very least, enough to give voters significant pause.
As Orenstein reported, McClendon — for some reason — appeared on a quack online talk show in 2016, when he was running for lieutenant governor against Democrat Cyrus Habib.
The show, “Warning TV” — hosted by Stanwood pastor Jonathan Hansen — is the kind of hot garbage that has proliferated in this age of malleable facts and straight-up distortion.
Hansen has a history of promoting all sorts of belligerent bunk online, from “birtherism” to Agenda 21. For those wise enough to stay out of the deep end of the internet or the Tea Party movement, Agenda 21 involves an alleged plot to dismantle property rights. It has essentially mutated into a bizarre conspiracy theory that rivals chemtrails or faked moon landings.
McClendon’s decision to appear on “Warning TV” is questionable enough.
It’s the words he offered up that raise red flags.
First, McClendon called Habib, who is Iranian American, “anti God.”
For the record, Habib is Catholic.
Then, McClendon went from dumb to dumber.
“My opponent is not a Christian,” McClendon said.
“In fact, many call him a Muslim.”
The implication there is straightforward enough, isn’t it?
Forget for a moment that Habib is, in fact, Catholic. The inference McClendon offered up, casting Habib as “anti god,” “not a Christian” and — finally — the less-than-innocent suggestion that “many call him a Muslim” is very clear.
It’s designed to sow seeds of doubt, using a twisted, intolerant stereotype of the Islamic faith to do so. It’s a nefarious tactic that has been an undercurrent on the Right for some time now.
Predictably, McClendon apologized. When asked about the appearance, and his words, he told The News Tribune he “misspoke” when he called Habib “anti God,” and acknowledged it “was just wrong.”
He also said he’d been led astray by “several” of his supporters, who apparently told him Habib was Muslim.
Finally, McClendon acknowledged that even if Habib were Muslim, that shouldn’t be an issue for voters.
“We need faithful Muslims and Christians of good will to come together and help build our society,” McClendon told The News Tribune.
Fine. I’m not questioning the sincerity of McClendon’s apology. Haven’t we all found ourselves accidentally appearing on a deranged and dangerous internet talk show from time to time?
Ultimately, the weight of McClendon’s mistakes, and what they mean, are up to voters in the 26th District to decide.
The bigger issue is the pattern here, and it’s one we’ve seen repeatedly.
It involves candidates and elected officials on the Right — like McClendon and plenty of others — cozying just close enough up to hate and bigotry to reap the evil rewards, and then sheepishly backing away when confronted about it.
The backtrack comes after the damage is done, and after the payoff — the activation of a vile segment of our electorate that subscribes to such nonsense — is realized.
You don’t get to have it both ways, yet time and time again that’s what candidates who employ the game plan ask us to condone or forgive.
Examples are commonplace. Earlier this year, under McClendon’s leadership, the Pierce County Republican Party welcomed controversial former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. to headline the party’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.
Clarke is “controversial” because he often says and does terrible things. He’s likened activists fighting against police brutality to ISIS, and has been known to suggest bodily harm against journalists — to say nothing of the examples of abuse and mistreatment during his time overseeing the Milwaukee County Jail.
McClendon defended the invitation, telling me at the time that the party wasn’t concerned about the reaction, and that Clarke is “clearly pro-Donald Trump and clearly pro-Republican Party.”
“Bottom line,” McClendon said, “he has a message of restoring family and restoring community.”
Then there’s what transpired in Spokane last month, when James Allsup — a 22-year-old white nationalist — was invited to speak at an event organized by Northwest Grassroots, a local Tea Party group.
Allsup has ties to all sorts of blatantly racist stuff, from Charlottesville Identity Evropa, which, as The Spokesman Review reported, is a group that “promotes a vision of America dominated by white people and is classified by the Anti-Defamation League as a white supremacist group.”
Former chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party Cecily Wright introduced Allsup, and later defended his invitation. On a video of the event, Wright can be heard offering supportive words, and even saying Allsup is the victim of “label lynching.”
Guess what happened next? Wright resigned shortly after the video surfaced online, describing her decision to defend Allsup as a “serious mistake.”
Sound familiar? Of course, it does.
All of this brings me back to my wife.
For Republicans such as McClendon, and plenty of others, it’s time to take her advice.
Don’t apologize for routinely aligning yourselves with the worst parts of our society.
Just stop doing it.
Or — and this is the key — if this really is who you are …
At least own it.