Former Gov. Rick Perry expressed support Monday for taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina that has become a lightning rod of controversy in the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre.
Without outright agreeing the flag should come down, the presidential candidate offered warm words for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call earlier Monday to remove it from the statehouse grounds in Columbia. The flag has become a subject of intense debate following a shooting that left nine people dead last week at the historically black church.
"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," Perry said in a statement. "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 had previously said taking down the flag might be a "good conversation that needs to be had." At the same time, he has taken heat for his initial comments on the shooting Friday, when he mistakenly labeled it an "accident."
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the other GOP White House hopeful from Texas, has also stressed that it is up to South Carolinians whether they want the flag removed. In an interview that aired on Fox News, Cruz reiterated that position but applauded Haley and other elected officials for presenting a united front on the issue.
"I think it's wrong for a bunch of people who aren't from the given state to parachute in to South Carolina and dictate what they should do, but I'll commend the leaders there for standing up and leading," Cruz told host Bret Baier.
In South Carolina, two members of Cruz's leadership team have made headlines for resisting efforts to take down the flag. One of them, state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, on Monday compared calls for removing the flag to a "Stalinist purge," according to the local newspaper. In the interview that was broadcast Monday, Baier asked Cruz whether he agreed with Bright, but Cruz did not say. His campaign has reportedly stood by Bright in the wake of the comment.