The Republican party has a race problem. I mean, it always has, ever since Southern Democrats did what President Johnson said they would do when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “[W]e just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come,” he famously remarked.And the GOP would ride racial resentment and fear to electoral victories and greater political power up and down the ballot across the country. But as we’re seeing in the contest for the nomination, race is boomeranging on the Republicans.  

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), the latest front-runner in the impending Iowa caucuses, has been tripped up by racist newsletters that bear his name from the late 1980s and the 1990s. He’s trying his best to skitter away from them by saying things like “I didn’t write them, I disavow them. . . .” But that simply isn’t good enough, especially after you read James Kirchick’s “Angry White Man; the bigoted past of Ron Paul” from 2008 and “Why Don’t Libertarians Care About Ron Paul’s Bigoted Newsletters?” from last week.

The contents of these newsletters can best be described as appalling. Blacks were referred to as “animals.” Gays were told to go “back” into the “closet.” The “X-Rated Martin Luther King” was a bisexual pedophile who “seduced underage girls and boys.” Three months before the Oklahoma City bombing, Paul praised right-wing, anti-government militia movements as “one of the most encouraging developments in America.” The voluminous record of bigotry and conspiracy theories speaks for itself.

Paul is trying to dodge the controversy by saying he didn’t write such ugliness and didn’t know about it. That’s unacceptable and should disqualify him from ever sitting in the Oval Office. Still, the American people deserve a better explanation from Paul. But we won’t get one. Paul’s relative silence follows a pattern we’ve seen over the last year. Whenever racial controversies flare up, deny, disavow or dispute as quickly as possible and then pretend the matter is behind you.

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.) employed this tactic when he tripped over “Niggerhead.” He told The Post in October, that the unfortunate name for the hunting camp he and his family leased in the 1980s is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world.” As I wrote then, I can’t wrap my head around how anyone could 1.) lease a property with such an offensive name to begin with, and 2.) not be ready to discuss the situation with clarity once the offense was inevitably revealed.

Those same questions apply to Paul, by the way. How could he allow such filth to be published in a newsletter bearing his name? How could he not know about it? And how could he not be ready to discuss the issue forthrightly once the newsletters were revealed — again? But I digress.

During his exploratory phase earlier this year, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) considered giving a major address on race if he officially kicked off a presidential campaign. Given his massive blind spot on race, which included saying about the Civil Rights era in Yazoo City, Miss., “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” I was hopeful that a Barbour speech on race in America from his perspective would be as healing as it would be uncomfortable. But it is believed that Barbour pulled the plug on a possible campaign because he couldn’t figure out how to deliver such an address without hurting himself politically. As a longtime Barbour friend told GQ this year, “[I]f he hasn’t figured out how you overcome it, or pretty well minimize it, in my opinion he won’t run.”

Then there’s Herman Cain. The former Godfather’s Pizza chief and former front-runner for the nomination just a month ago used race as a hammer against his critics. Those who dared criticize him for anything were stuck on the “Democrat plantation,” fearful of “an accomplished, articulate, optimistic black man” or any of the other race-based excuses he used to get away from explaining his glaring deficiencies or stunning moral lapses.Cain’s allies used race to defend him. Remember “our blacks are so much better than their blacks”? And I threw a hand grenade on the table of “Morning Joe” in October when I posited that the reason why Cain was not being roundly criticized by Republicans for his astonishing unpreparedness was because white Republicans were afraid to criticize a black candidate. So, they let him continue to embarrass himself and the party until the alleged friends-with-benefits relationship with Ginger White proved too much to ignore.

Sooner or later, a major candidate for the Republican nomination will have to give the equivalent of President Obama’s speech on race during the 2008 campaign. A frank assessment of the issue that discusses the party’s role in exacerbating tensions and sowing division, the state of race relations from his or her perspective and how they see their role in making this a more perfect union. That Ron Paul rides high in Iowa demonstrates how far off that day is. And until that day comes, the Republican party will deserve to lose the political and electoral advantage ceded to them by Johnson 47 years ago.