Here's Where the 2016 Candidates Stand on the Confederate Flag Issue

Some have called for its immediate removal; others say the state should decide.

June 23, 2015, 6:00 PM
PHOTO: The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, June 19, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.
The Confederate flag flies near the South Carolina Statehouse, June 19, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.
Rainier Ehrhardt/AP Photo

— -- The Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol has become a flashpoint after nine African Americans were shot dead in a Charleston church last week.

The GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, urged the state to remove the flag, calling it a "symbol of racial hatred."

President Obama agreed:

Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.

— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) June 20, 2015

Good point, Mitt.

— President Obama (@POTUS) June 21, 2015

The 2016 presidential candidates have been asked to weigh in on whether the flag should be removed from the grounds, prompting some to call for its immediate removal while others have said it’s a decision left to the people of South Carolina.

ABC News reached out to all of the declared and potential 2016 candidates for their positions on the Confederate flag in South Carolina. Here’s a look at where the candidates stand on the issue.


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie voiced his stance on removing the flag for the first time Tuesday afternoon, nearly a full day after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced her support for its removal.

"I commend Governor Haley for her decision to remove the flag from the grounds of the state capitol. While this is a necessary step towards addressing a divisive symbol of racism in our country, this step will mean little if we do not also honestly confront and discuss the fact that these murders were born out of ugly hate and racism," Christie said. "That is what we must stand up against and fight even more than any symbol; it is long overdue that we not only shine a light on and condemn the symbols of hate, but on the haters themselves as well."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, weighed in on the issue for the first time Tuesday morning, announcing his support for removing the flag in an interview with ABC radio affiliate WRKO.

“For every African American in the country it’s a symbol of slavery for them and now it’s a symbol of murder -- it’s time to put it in a museum," Paul said.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, was one of the first 2016 contenders to call for the flag’s removal.

"In the 21st century, that flag shouldn't be on the Capitol ground in the state of South Carolina," Pataki said on Fox News. "I think they'll do the right thing. They'll remove the flag.”

Jeb Bush, also a Republican, believes the Confederate flag should be taken down from the South Carolina State Capitol, as was done in Florida during his tenure as governor, a Bush spokesperson told ABC News.

Lindsey Graham, one of South Carolina’s Republican senators, called for the removal of the flag, saying it would be "another step towards healing and recognition" as the state mourns the murder of nine African Americans at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last week.

“In the worst of tragedies, we have seen the best of South Carolina. Today, I am urging that the Confederate Battle Flag be removed from statehouse grounds to an appropriate location. After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag," Graham said.

Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, weighed in on the South Carolina confederate flag debate back in 2007 and still holds the view that it should be removed.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, called for the flag to be removed in a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco on Sunday.

"What a terribly jarring and callous sight then -- in the wake of this racist massacre -- to see the American flag at half-staff, while above it at full-staff over the state capitol of South Carolina flew a Confederate flag,” O’Malley said. “If the families of Charleston can forgive ... can let go of their anger ... is it really too much to ask the state government officials of South Carolina to retire the Confederate flag to a museum?”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, described the flag as a "relic of our nation's stained racial history" when calling for its removal.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has yet to announce whether he will run for president, initially said the people of South Carolina should decide whether the flag is removed, but later announced his support for taking down the flag after Haley called for its removal.

After Haley announced her decision, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich said he supported removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

"I fully support Governor Haley’s leadership today in calling for the flag to come down. This is a decision for South Carolina to make and they are now starting that process," Kasich said. "Like Governor Haley, I believe the flag should come down."

Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee "believes the Confederate flag should not be flown on state property," an aide to Chafee told ABC News.


Many declared and potential 2016 candidates wouldn’t give a clear answer on whether the flag should be removed. Republican candidates including Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum have argued the decision should be made by the people of South Carolina.

“This is a decision that needs to be made here in South Carolina,” Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz on "This Week" Sunday.

“We'll let the states decide that, but again, just like the gun issue, let's have that debate at the right time. And right now we should all be in mourning,” Louisiana Gov. Jindal told ABC News’ Rick Klein in an interview Friday.

“I don't personally display it anywhere. So it's not an issue for me," Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee said on NBC’s "Meet the Press" Sunday. "That's an issue for the people of South Carolina."

“I think that’s a question for South Carolina. And the last thing they need is people from outside of the state coming in and dictating how they should resolve it,” Cruz said this weekend.

"I understand the passions that this debate evokes on both sides," the senator from Texas told the Washington Post, "both those who see a history of racial oppression and a history of slavery, which is the original sin of our nation ... [and] those who want to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors and the traditions of their states, not the racial oppression, but the historical traditions.”

"I applaud Governor Haley for her leadership at this difficult time. I appreciate and respect her statement that 'This is South Carolina's statehouse, it is South Carolina's historic moment, and this will be South Carolina's decision,'" said Rubio, of Florida. "I have no doubt that given how the people of South Carolina have dealt with this tragedy so far, they will continue to inspire the nation with their courage, compassion and unity."

“Well, I can tell you, you can put up Confederate flags everywhere or you could get rid of them,” Carson said on Fox News Sunday. "It’s not going to make any difference. What’s going to make a difference is do we change people’s hearts and minds. Now, I do recognize that some things are inflammatory. ... The Confederate flag causes a lot of people angst and they’re not able to see beyond that. And I think the people of South Carolina should really sit down and have an intelligent discussion about what can they use that captures their heritage, captures the heritage of America and allows them to coexist in peace.”

“I don’t think it’s my decision. I think it’s the people of South Carolina’s decision,” Fiorina told reporters Friday. “I think it’s clearly a symbol that is very offensive to many, but my personal opinion is not what’s relevant here.”

"The decision to remove the Confederate flag needs to be made by the people of South Carolina, and Gov. Haley's leadership today honors the people of Charleston, and the families of the victims of last week's horrific hate crime. Removing the flag is an act of healing and unity, that allows us to find a shared purpose based on the values that unify us," Perry said. "May God continue to be with the families of the victims in Charleston, and the great people of South Carolina."

ABC News did not immediately receive responses from the campaign of Donald Trump.

ABC News' Erin Dooley, Liz Kreutz, Candace Smith, Jessica Hopper, Rick Klein, John Santucci, Katherine Faulders, Jordyn Phelps, Adam Desiderio, Ali Dukakis, Jill Ornitz and Conor Kelly contributed to this report.

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