A key rule of politics has always been: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. And thanks to Jussie Smollett, Cory Booker found himself in a deep hole this week.
Shortly after the “Empire” star was hospitalized for an allegedly racially motivated attack, Booker had tweeted his support — and, in somewhat classic Booker fashion, also pointed to his own federal hate crimes legislation.
But then things unraveled. Smollett went from victim to suspect to defendant, and high-profile Democrats like U.S. Rep Adam Schiff, D-Calif. began trying to erase their apparently mistaken support.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. deleted her original supportive tweet, too.
Booker’s fellow 2020 Democratic candidate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, having originally supported Smollett with a tweet, now tweeted a retraction.
But as Smollett’s story imploded, Booker did not return to Twitter and delete his original tweet.
Instead, on February 17, Booker said he planned “withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources.”
Speaking to CNN on Feb. 17th, Booker added that Smollett’s alleged fraud didn’t hurt his anti-lynching bill because “we know in America that bigoted and biased attacks are on the rise in a serious way,” CNN quoted Booker as saying. “We actually even know in this country that since 9/11 a majority of the terrorist attacks on our soil have been right wing terrorist attacks, a majority of them white supremacist attacks.”
Four days later, Smollett was formally charged with a felony charge of disorderly conduct in filing a false police report. Since the charges, Booker hasn’t tweeted or commented on the subject. While he still might address the Smollett controversy, top Democratic operatives and pollsters say: Don’t hold your breath.
“On a day when he’s a target of an actual hate crime by someone stockpiling a cache of weapons to kill him and the Speaker of the House, I don’t think it’s right to judge him for tweeting or not on what’s happening in Chicago,” said Jeffrey Liszt, whose ALG Research polled for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Liszt was referring to the news that 49-year-old Coast Guard lieutenant and self-described white nationalist Christopher Hassonwas arrested last week and has been charged with stockpiling weapons “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” Pelosi, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabether Warren and Booker were among Hasson’s planned targets.
“What’s more, I don’t think he’s going to appease anybody in conservative media [with a tweet] and knowing which pitches to swing at and which to ignore is part of running for president,” Liszt said.
Another Democratic operative, who declined to speak for attribution, put it more simply.
“This is on conservative media 24/7 right now,” said the operative. “Why eat crow on it? I am not in an explanatory mood and I wouldn’t advise any Democratic candidate to do otherwise.”