David Duke

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke talks to the media at the Louisiana Secretary of State's office in Baton Rouge, La., on Friday, March 22, 2016, after registering to run for the U.S. Senate, saying "the climate of this country has moved in my direction." Duke's candidacy comes one day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination for president, and Duke said he's espoused principles for years that are similar to the themes Republicans are now supporting in Trump's campaign, on issues such as immigration and trade.

AP Photo by Max Becherer

To those people, mostly from out of state, who are wondering whether David Duke has any shot at all of becoming Louisiana's next U.S. Senator, my answer is a definite no.

Of course, I would have said the same thing a year ago about the likelihood of Donald Trump becoming the Republican presidential nominee.

Back then, Trump faced a large field of mainstream, qualified and acceptable-on-paper alternatives. The Senate race is crowded too, and Louisiana's unpredictable open primaries can allow a candidate running in a large field to advance to a runoff with a relatively narrow slice of support.

Duke, the former KKK leader and state legislator who upended Louisiana politics and drew international headlines when he made the 1991 gubernatorial runoff against the ethically compromised Edwin Edwards, would likely lose such a head-to-head matchup against any of his opponents, even a Democrat. But even that would be a dreadful development for Louisiana's reputation, particularly since the second round of voting will happen in December, when the eyes of the world will no longer be glued to the presidential contest.

To be honest, Duke's candidacy has already done its share of damage. And for that, a big old thank you goes out to his chief enabler: Trump himself.

That Trump's success conjured the ghost of Duke can't catch any intellectually honest observer by surprise. Resentment, proud nativism and defiance against political correctness are Trump's calling cards, and as Duke gleefully boasted in a recent video, nobody's more politically incorrect than he is.

The two have more in common. Both are proven opportunists, and Trump's rise, coupled with his too-slow rejection of Duke's backing, has supplied the oxygen that Duke craves.

Both have mastered the art of using social media to amplify their voices without having to raise or spend money. Like Trump, Duke uses Twitter to go after his rivals and those who criticize him, including just about every recognizable Republican who's spoken out.

And both clearly relish the idea of putting the party apparatus that turns up its nose at them in its place. Duke's rhetoric against the GOP establishment echoes Trump's attitude toward the many Republicans who once tried to paint him as out of step with the party's values, and the handful who are still fighting the good fight and attempting to do so.

In fact, there's something amazing about watching the Republican establishment rush to denounce Duke and his policies, even as it contorts itself to back Trump as the preferable alternative to the hated Hillary Clinton.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump's attack on a Mexican-American federal judge the textbook definition of a racist comment, and still backed him. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence labeled Trump's proposed ban on Muslims offensive and unconstitutional, and then signed on as his vice presidential nominee. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose own presidential quest never got off the ground, called Trump every horrible name in the book, but then said he'd vote for him.

So where, exactly, is the line?

All that said, there's no reason to believe Duke is on a similar trajectory here in Louisiana.

Elections for the Senate in Louisiana tend to hinge mostly on party these days, and all the Republicans in the race will surely promise to resist a President Clinton's initiatives as hard as they have fought President Barack Obama's. And even the insiders in the race are doing their best to tap into the national mood and position themselves as outsiders.

Duke's ascent, and his ability to draw a majority of the white vote despite a muscular campaign in support of Edwards, was a moment in time. One oft-cited argument for why he never did as well after that is that more acceptable candidates adopted causes he once espoused, things such as opposition to entitlements, without his racist baggage. Duke himself likes to point to a 2014 New York Times story, published after a blogger reported that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise had once spoken to Duke-founded group,  that made just that point. 

It all kind of makes you wonder: Even if Trump loses, what will the Republican Party look like after this equally unsettling moment in time?

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.