After a full week’s worth of 1940's South cosplay, Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith finally had an opportunity to set the record straight last night. Turns out, she doesn’t really give a damn and would rather everyone just move on.
Hyde-Smith, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Mississippi, took on her Democratic challenger Mike Espy in the pair’s first and only debate before the runoff on Tuesday evening. This came at the opportune moment for Hyde-Smith, as she’s spent nearly the last two weeks responding to twin controversies wrought by her own hand: joking about grabbing seats for a public hanging and suppressing the votes of those darn college kids. Then a 2014 photo of her in a Confederate uniform that made the rounds. It was all about a normal Mississippi week, but because this race has garnered national attention, Hyde-Smith actually had to answer for her actions.
One of the first questions of the debate was about the video of her “public hanging” comment. After first explaining that she was simply trying to explain to the crowd how much she liked a particular donor, Hyde-Smith apologized to “anyone that was offended by my comments,” and made the definitely true claim that, “I’ve never been hurtful to anyone.” Then, with her response time coming to a close, she deployed what I’m guessing her campaign team thought would be a sick burn, one that would really turn this whole shitshow in her favor.
“I also recognize that this comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me,” Hyde-Smith said. “A political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent. That is the type of politics Mississippians are sick and tired of.”
How was Espy ever going to get out of that one? The former U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton, Espy took a beat when the moderators gave him the floor. Then he said what anyone with half a brain was thinking.
“Well, no one twisted your comments because your comments were live. You know, it came out of your mouth. I don’t know what’s in your heart, but we all know what came out of your mouth,” Espy said. “It went viral within the first three minutes around the world. And so it’s caused our state harm. It’s given our state another black eye that we don’t need. It’s just rejuvenating those stereotypes that we don’t need anymore.”
Hyde-Smith, when offered the chance to respond, only doubled-down, saying again that her words were “twisted and used by my opponent” while adding the whole thing is “unfortunate.”
What seems most “unfortunate” to Hyde-Smith is that the era when the media didn’t bother covering racist comments by public officials is over. Given that’s not the reality of American politics anymore, whining that her opponent benefitted off her gaffe—in which Hyde-Smith said, out loud, in Mississippi, that she would attend a public hanging—is an incredibly petty move.