Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville caused an uproar over the weekend with his comments at a Donald Trump rally in Nevada in which he made racially charged remarks connecting Black people with crime.
Tuberville’s spokeswoman did not respond to CNN’s request for clarification on Saturday night, but a look at Tuberville’s history of racially insensitive comments likely explains why the senator from Alabama was invited to Nevada to help Republican candidates locked in tight races for US senator and governor.
Tuberville, appearing with Trump in a rural area of Nevada in support of those candidates, first told the crowd that the Democratic Party is “pro-crime, they want crime.” Then he exclaimed, “They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have.” What that means is hard to say, but GOP leaders know their base well, so telling the audience that Democrats want to steal what you have was the message Tuberville believes will animate some Republican voters.
Tuberville’s comment that caused such a backlash must also be viewed in the same light. Raising his voice in anger, the senator shouted, “They want reparations, because they think the people that do the crime are owed that! Bullsh**!” That line drew big cheers from the audience, with Tuberville adding, “They are not owed that.”
Connecting reparations — the concept of compensating Black Americans who are the descendants of enslaved people for the inhumane suffering of their ancestors — with people who commit crimes is outrageous — and way beyond a dog whistle.
CNN anchor and senior political correspondent Abby Phillip rightly called it Sunday morning “straight-up racism from a sitting United States senator.” Phillip explained that Tuberville was “talking to white voters about their own preconceived notions of Black people being responsible for crime and not deserving anything as a result.”
Tuberville’s history of trafficking in bigotry backs that up. For starters, in 2011, when Tuberville was still a college football coach, he appeared on Fox News, lending his support to Trump’s birtherism smear of President Barack Obama. “There’s got to be something on there (the birth certificate) that he doesn’t want anybody to see,” the coach said then.
As a candidate for Senate, Tuberville served up a buffet of bigotry, taking aim at many of the go-to targets GOP leaders love to demonize. Like Trump, he claimed immigrants were bringing in “drugs” and “diseases.” Tuberville also came after my own Muslim community with lies such as you “can’t drive through a neighborhood (in certain cities). Why? Because terrorism has taken over. Sharia law has taken over.” That wasn’t true, but Tuberville knows some GOP voters well.
Regarding the LGBTQ community, Tuberville posted on Facebook during his Senate campaign: “Hard to believe that right in my own backyard the city of Opelika allows drag queens in the city Christmas Parade which was held this weekend. What is next?” As a candidate, he also complained on Facebook over reports that Chick-fil-A no longer would donate to charities under fire from LGBTQ activists: “Isn’t it horrible when liberal activists ruin something good?”
As a senator in 2021, Tuberville continued with the dog whistles. For example, he publicly opposed Fort Rucker – a military base in Alabama named in honor of Confederate Gen. Edmund W. Rucker. “You can’t destroy history, you can’t change it,” Tuberville told The Southeast Sun newspaper in Enterprise, Alabama. “We need to learn from history.”
The senator has slammed teaching critical race theory, accusing Democrats of promoting the academic framework to “change the way we view our country.” So, Tuberville wants to keep honoring Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery while banning students from knowing the full history of slavery and racism in America.
Tuberville, one of only a handful of US senators to challenge President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, has repeatedly told us who he is. None of it is a secret.
And keep in mind, while Tuberville was a football coach for more than two decades before being elected to the Senate, he never coached in Nevada. In fact, for most of his career, he was in the Deep South, coaching at the University of Mississippi and Auburn University in Alabama.
But Nevada is a battleground state, and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Joe Lombardo and Senate candidate Adam Laxalt — who both attended Saturday’s rally — are locked in close races with Democratic incumbents Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, respectively.
So far, neither Laxalt nor Lombardo has denounced Tuberville’s comments on Twitter despite sharing numerous clips from the rally. And it’s unlikely you will see them do so. Laxalt and Lombardo — like Trump and Tuberville — know exactly what excites some GOP voters.