Debate over Confederate flag heats up in Republican presidential race – Los Angeles Times
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and the GOP’s previous nominee, Mitt Romney, both called Saturday for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse, pushing debate over the divisive symbol to the forefront of the Republican primary.
The killing of nine people in a historic African American church in Charleston on Wednesday rekindled the longstanding disgust many feel about the flag being officially flown on state property. South Carolina’s Republican primary comes early in the election cycle and the Confederate flag has been an issue in previous primaries.
Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee for president, wrote on Twitter that many see the Confederate flag as a “symbol of racial hatred” and called for its immediate removal. “Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims,” Romney wrote.
Jeb Bush was more measured, noting in a Facebook post that in his home state of Florida, the Confederate flag was moved from state grounds “to a museum where it belonged.” Bush appeared to favor the same approach for South Carolina.
“This is obviously a very sensitive time in South Carolina,” Bush wrote, adding that after a “period of mourning” for those killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 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.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another GOP presidential contender, said in a statement to the Associated Press that South Carolina legislators should settle the issue themselves and that the last thing they need is “people from outside of the state coming in and dictating how they should resolve it.”
On Friday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is also running in the Republican primary, said the focus on the flag was misplaced. Graham told CNN that the focus should be on Roof and that the Confederate flag should not be used as “an excuse” for the killings.
“We’re not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It’s him … not the flag,” Graham said.
After the killings, civil rights leaders and President Obama renewed calls to remove the flag, which flies at the top of a 30-foot flagpole near the South Carolina Capitol. The 21-year-old shooting suspect, Dylann Roof, posed with a Confederate flag and a pistol in a photo posted online before the shooting.
Before Saturday, most Republican candidates had avoided a discussion about the racial motives behind the attack and instead focused on the violence against churchgoers.
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