This undated image that appeared on Lastrhodesian.com, a Web site being investigated by the FBI in connection with Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Roof, shows Roof posing for a photo while holding a Confederate battle flag. (Lastrhodesian.com via Associated Press)

The varying responses from the Republican candidates for president about whether the Confederate battle flag should continue to fly in the South or anywhere should be an embarrassment to the Party of Lincoln.

We’re talking about the battle flag because of Dylann Roof. The avowed racist reportedly confessed to murdering nine African Americans in a historic black church on June 17 in a twisted attempt to start a race war. A hateful manifesto attributed to Roof found three days later doesn’t break new ground in the resentment and paranoia that fuel white supremacy. But at age 21, Roof proves white supremacy’s scary and enduring appeal to folks whose hearts are primed to hate. And included with his scribbled screed against African Americans — and Hispanics and Jews — are disturbing photographs of the high school dropout posing with guns and the Confederate battle flag.

Former governor Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who is not seeking the nomination for 2016, condemned the Confederate battle flag in a tweet that was as blunt as it was necessary. A rebuke he first delivered in a GOP presidential debate in South Carolina in 2007.

The current crop of Republican candidates is decidedly less bold. Jeb Bush was the strongest. He cited his action as governor of Florida in removing the flag from state property in 2001 in calling on South Carolina’s leaders to “do the right thing.” Mike Huckabee’s response was the most unfortunate. Asked about the appropriateness of the Confederate battle flag, the former governor of Arkansas, which honors the Confederacy in its state flag, opted for deflection during an interview on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Huckabee said he doesn’t display the flag so it’s not an issue for him. But he complained, “[E]veryone is being baited with this question.” He also said, “[I]f you want to point to me an article and section in the Constitution where it says the U.S. president ought to weigh in on what states use as symbols, then please refresh my memory of that.” This is unacceptable.

The Confederate battle flag that far too many revere is no better than a swastika. The treasonous Civil War banner is a threatening symbol of Southern resistance, white supremacy and murder that should have no place in American political discourse. In 2013, a protester unfurled it in front of the home of the first black president of the United States in a stunning display of disrespect. Two years later, it figures prominently in the slaughter of nine souls by someone who was welcomed with open arms and no judgment.

For anyone who aspires to lead all Americans, the only acceptable response to the Confederate battle flag question is “take it down!”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj