In the past year and a half, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been battered by controversies involving white supremacists and sexual predators.
Race has almost always been part of the political discussion since the 2016 presidential election, which featured Donald J. Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he equated the supporters of Hillary Clinton with violent white supremacists. “Huge group just left CPAC. Many white folks,” he said. “Very angry. Much more angry than I thought!”
But this year’s presidential election was not what energized party activists: It was the confirmation of Kavanaugh, the White House’s strategy to unleash a wave of women on the 2020 campaign.
“The Kavanaugh narrative was the crux of Democrats’ electoral strategy,” said Republican strategist Michael Adler. “They went full throttle on this to win over the female vote.”
Democrats celebrated the SPLC, a sort of legal Mother Teresa for many of them, yet as the anniversary of the organization’s founding has approached, it has been glossed over in the flurry of campaign announcements and fundraisers that will dominate the news during the next two weeks. They will get a moment to celebrate after Election Day, Adler said.
Yet that moment will likely be brief.
“The subtext of all this is, ‘Oh, you have a political statement to make, go talk to the Southern Poverty Law Center’,” Adler said. “But what Democrats really are doing is chasing news cycles and media.”
There have been other issues that have dominated the White House: accusations that Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh acted inappropriately with women, the Russians running interference in the elections and lying about it. Even Trump’s tweets about legal challenges to his tax returns are getting more attention this week than the sexual misconduct of the men indicted for sex crimes and accessories to murder.
But Robert Hur, an early SPLC donor and the founder of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he thought that having Trump tied to a group like the SPLC had worked against it and that donations to the organization were down.
“Trump-promoted hate groups have demonized the SPLC and their defenders,” Hur said. “So that unfortunately has hurt them financially.”
Hur said that Democratic leaders were “wrong” in their strategy of turning the SPLC into a partisan issue during the Kavanaugh confirmation and that Democrats should hold fire on the group for now.
“There’s no good time for Democrats to alienate their base,” Hur said. “When Democrats were still playing politics, it was more about attacking the SPLC. Now we have got to campaign to hold down their donations. There’s no doubt that there’s been a general erosion of support from blacks, Latinos and particularly young people.”
Hur believes that Democrats are still very supportive of the SPLC. “But they’re too ideologically driven to understand that the political controversy isn’t about them,” he said. “At best, they’re a scapegoat for their sense of injustice and powerlessness. It hurts that this is how it is when there are so many real issues that are more important to minorities.”