Just when you thought Cindy Hyde-Smith couldn't make her 'public hanging' comment any worse...

On Nov. 2,...

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 3:57 AM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 3:57 AM

On Nov. 2, Cindy Hyde-Smith said something dumb.

Praising a cattle rancher and thanking him for his support, the Mississippi Republican senator said this: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

Continents and regions

Government and public administration

Government organizations - US

Mississippi

North America

Phil Bryant

Political Figures - US

Politics

Press conferences

Southeastern United States

The Americas

United States

US Congress

US Senate

Uh, no.

Four days later, Hyde-Smith took 41.4% of the vote to 40.4% against former Democratic Rep. Mike Espy, who is black. (Under Mississippi law, the two will compete in a Nov. 27 runoff.) Five days after the vote, the video emerged of Hyde-Smith's "joke" -- and a national controversy quickly ensued.

Trying to stop the bleeding, Hyde-Smith released a statement on Sunday, saying: "In a comment on Nov. 2, I referred to accepting an invitation to a speaking engagement. In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous."

Which brings us to Monday in Mississippi. And specifically, a news conference with Hyde-Smith and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who appointed her in March to fill the seat of Thad Cochran, who resigned due to health issues.

Let me just say this as plainly as possible: This news conference could not have gone worse for Cindy Hyde-Smith. Like, it's simply not possible. You need to watch the whole video -- it's only 140 seconds long -- but just in case you don't, here's everything Hyde-Smith said when being asked a variety of questions about her "public hanging" comment. (These are in the order she said them.)

1. "I put out a statement yesterday and we stand by that statement."

2. "We put out the statement yesterday and it's available and we stand by that statement."

3. "I put out a statement yesterday and that's all I am going to say about it."

4. "I put out a statement and we stand by the statement and that's all I'm going to say about it."

5. "We put out a statement yesterday and I stand by the statement."

It's impossibly awkward. Like, me in high school awkward. Hell, it might even qualify as me in junior high school awkward.

And all of that comes before Bryant, who up to this point has been a bystander in this political disaster, is asked how Hyde-Smith referring to her past statement makes him feel.

"She's certainly addressing the fact that she put out a statement," he says in what has to be a first-ballot entrant into the saying-something-while-saying-nothing Hall of Fame. What Bryant is essentially saying is this: Look, I don't want ANY part of this. But I can attest to the fact that Hyde-Smith did say some words. Confirmed.

Here's what's remarkable about the whole thing: Hyde-Smith, a sitting Republican senator who had jokingly referred to a public hanging just days before the election, somehow made things even worse for herself in this news conference.

And what amazes me most is that it didn't have to be this way.

Hyde-Smith should know FAR better than to refer in a joking manner to public hangings in a state that, according to the NAACP, conducted the most lynchings (561) from 1882 to 1968. (Many people have suggested that the comment was made even worse by the fact that Hyde-Smith's main opponent in her re-election race is black. I think the comment is about as tone deaf and bad as it can possibly get no matter who Hyde-Smith is running against.)

But given that she made the comment, what she should have immediately done is simply apologize for her choice of words. Something like: "I got caught up in a moment of frivolity and made a deeply unfortunate word choice. I understand how deeply lynchings scarred the state of Mississippi and I am recommitting myself to fighting for the rights of every Mississippian when I go back to the Senate next year."

She didn't do that. Instead, she initially tried to suggest that people were twisting her words in search of a "negative connotation." What, exactly, is the positive connotation of the words "public hanging"? And the quote above from Hyde-Smith on Nov. 2 is entirely unedited. So how could she possibly have been misunderstood?

Then, on Monday, someone gave Hyde-Smith bad advice -- along the lines of "Stick to your initial statement. Don't give the fire any oxygen." Which, broadly speaking, makes sense when dealing with political problems. It does not make sense when the statement to which Hyde-Smith keeps referring is a bad one (as I noted above) and expresses no real apology for her comment. What you take from that 140 seconds of awkwardness is that Hyde-Smith's final word on her "joke" about a public hanging is that people are reading too much into it.

You can't get it more wrong than that.

Here's the thing: Hyde-Smith is still a heavy favorite to win a full six-year-term in two weeks' time. Mississippi is a decidedly conservative state and Republican candidates combined for more than 55% of the vote in the Senate race last Tuesday.

But what she's done over the past 48 hours -- and especially her news conference Monday -- amounts to a series of bad, bad, bad political blunders. And when a politician makes a mistake this grievous, sometimes the normal rules of political gravity don't hold.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 68293

Reported Deaths: 1944
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5700119
DeSoto371031
Harrison260136
Madison245569
Jackson231444
Rankin230735
Jones193159
Forrest182656
Washington170142
Lee152142
Lauderdale141592
Neshoba128892
Lamar123115
Bolivar113635
Oktibbeha113339
Warren112535
Lowndes109239
Panola106816
Sunflower105625
Scott101120
Lafayette98719
Copiah96228
Leflore94966
Pike94037
Holmes91049
Grenada85123
Pontotoc8429
Yazoo84113
Lincoln83442
Monroe82155
Simpson80631
Leake79526
Coahoma78113
Wayne78021
Tate74330
Marshall7129
Marion68420
Union66216
Adams63225
Winston62916
Covington62214
George5956
Pearl River55940
Newton54511
Tallahatchie54111
Attala52725
Walthall50221
Chickasaw47619
Noxubee46112
Tishomingo4377
Alcorn4355
Calhoun4259
Prentiss42310
Claiborne40914
Smith40613
Hancock40214
Clay40114
Jasper3949
Itawamba38710
Tippah37414
Tunica3587
Clarke33626
Montgomery3295
Lawrence3238
Yalobusha31610
Humphreys29712
Quitman2691
Carroll26111
Greene25612
Perry2428
Amite2376
Webster23712
Kemper23314
Jefferson Davis2336
Wilkinson21513
Stone2115
Sharkey2045
Jefferson1957
Benton1451
Choctaw1354
Franklin1312
Issaquena272
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 100801

Reported Deaths: 1814
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13366246
Mobile10581212
Montgomery6825151
Madison546934
Tuscaloosa426979
Unassigned392566
Baldwin367029
Shelby333437
Marshall319438
Lee270847
Morgan241819
Etowah218034
DeKalb183414
Calhoun181918
Elmore176039
Walker154465
Houston142813
Russell13892
St. Clair136320
Limestone135913
Dallas133624
Franklin129722
Cullman123012
Colbert121517
Lauderdale119020
Autauga116222
Escambia108817
Talladega105414
Jackson10264
Tallapoosa87579
Chambers84738
Dale84329
Clarke82610
Chilton8189
Blount8165
Butler77036
Coffee7656
Covington74021
Pike7137
Marion58226
Barbour5796
Lowndes57124
Marengo56616
Hale48526
Bullock48111
Winston45711
Perry4454
Bibb4445
Washington44412
Wilcox43410
Monroe4236
Pickens4089
Randolph40211
Conecuh39310
Sumter36618
Lawrence3542
Macon33914
Crenshaw3326
Choctaw28912
Cherokee2768
Clay2675
Geneva2652
Henry2643
Greene25211
Lamar2302
Fayette2235
Cleburne1291
Coosa1053
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
92° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 99°
Columbus
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 101°
Oxford
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 92°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 96°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather