Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — hero or villain? Inquiring Mississippi Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel wants to know.
McDaniel took to Twitter and Facebook on Thursday to conduct his own survey, asking readers, “In light of all the political correctness and leftist hysteria, I’m curious about what you think: How should Robert E. Lee be remembered?”
McDaniel’s journey into Civil War history comes as his campaign attempts to gain traction in a three-person race to permanently fill the seat of retired U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
McDaniel’s survey, along with the late slave-owning Lee, was largely pilloried on Twitter. Ninety-one percent of over 130,000 people who voted as of Friday afternoon declared Lee a villain while only 9 percent considered him a hero.
Facebook, however, presented a different picture: 91 percent of the more than 3,000 voters as of Friday afternoon called Lee a hero and 9 percent declared him a villain.
Tanner Watson, a McDaniel campaign spokesman, surmised that the Facebook votes came mostly from Mississippi residents.
McDaniel created the online polls after he reposted his own Facebook post and tweet from August 2017 in which he praised Lee.
Quoting controversial conservative Dinesh D’Souza, McDaniel wrote that Lee “was a man of unimpeachable integrity.”
“Lee opposed both secession and slavery,” McDaniel wrote, quoting D’Souza. “And yet to the historically illiterate left, a man who opposed both slavery and secession has come to symbolize both slavery and secession.”
McDaniel’s assertions were quickly challenged by historians and commentators ranging from CNN anchor Jake Tapper to Princeton University history professor Kevin Kruse.
“Lee owned slaves and brutalized them,” Kruse tweeted. “Lee led an armed revolt against the United States to preserve slavery. And during it, Lee’s army captured free blacks in the North and enslaved them. But you were saying about the ‘historically illiterate?’”
But Steve Wells, an accounting professor at Western Kentucky University who holds three degrees from the University of Mississippi, agreed with McDaniel on Facebook.
“Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity, honor, and valor,” Wells posted Thursday. “And yes, he was a devout Christian man.”
McDaniel is running against Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., who was appointed to fill Cochran’s seat after he retired earlier this year, and Democrat Mike Espy, a former U.S. House member who served as President Bill Clinton’s agriculture secretary.
Espy is seeking to become Mississippi’s first African American senator since Reconstruction.
Hyde-Smith became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress when she was sworn in April to temporarily replace Cochran. She’s running to serve the remainder of Cochran’s term.
Espy’s campaign declined to comment of McDaniel’s Lee poll. Hyde-Smith’s campaign didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.
Recent polls done for the Hyde-Smith and Espy campaigns each have McDaniel running a distant third ahead of the Nov. 6 election. If none of the candidates receives 50 percent of the vote in the special election, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a Nov. 27 runoff election.