GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence this week declined to call former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke “deplorable,” despite even his fellow Republicans urging him to do so.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday, Pence slammed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for referring to Trump supporters as belonging to a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton made the comment during a fundraiser on Friday in reference to Trump supporters being “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.”
Blitzer asked Pence whether Clinton’s remark was inaccurate.
“There are some supporters of Donald Trump and Mike Pence who David Duke, for example, some other white nationalists who would fit into that category of deplorables. Right” Blitzer asked.
Pence said Trump has “denounced” Duke, adding, “We don’t want his support and we don’t want the support of people who think like him,” but when pressed by Blitzer on whether Duke is deplorable, Pence said, “No, I’m not in the name calling business.”
Duke presently is also running for U.S. Senate from Louisiana.
On Tuesday, during a visit to the Capitol, some of Pence’s fellow Republicans called on him to denounce Duke more forcefully.
In a private meeting with Pence, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah “emphasized that Republicans must identify David Duke’s racism as deplorable, acknowledging that he ordinarily uses terms like ‘deplorable’ to describe messages, ideas, actions and organizations, but not people,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll told NBC News, adding that “Lee also encouraged the Trump campaign to be explicit in its denunciation of the alt right movement.”
Clinton also jumped on Pence, tweeting, “If you won’t say the KKK is deplorable, you have no business running the country.”
And at a campaign event in Michigan on Tuesday, Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, expressed similar comments.
“If you cannot call out bigotry. If you cannot call out racism, xenophobia. If you cannot call out and you stand back and be silent about it then you are enabling it to grow. You are enabling it to become more powerful,” Kaine said. “We want to be a nation of the positive virtues not the dark emotions and not the negative virtues.”
In a statement over the weekend, Clinton said she regretted using the word “half” when referring to Trump’s “deplorable” supporters, but added that what is “deplorable” is the Trump campaign hiring “a major advocate for the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement to run his campaign and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values.”
Following Pence’s CNN interview, Duke praised Pence for not denouncing him.
“It’s good to see an individual like Pence and others start to reject this absolute controlled media,” Duke told BuzzFeed News. He later said: “The truth is the Republican Party is a big tent. I served in the Republican caucus. I was in the Republican caucus in the legislature. I had a perfect Republican voting record.”
On a radio show earlier this month, Duke and cohost Jay Hess said a Clinton presidencywould be a detriment to white America. Hess said Clinton is the “architect of white genocide” and a “traitor.”
Duke explained further: “When a person goes to the store, they go to the mall, or they drive somewhere in their car and they break down, or they stop at a traffic light and they might get hijacked, nine times out of 10 it’s not gonna be some white guy hijacking their car. It’s not gonna be a white guy kidnapping them at the Walmart, right And, you know, taking their family and slaughtering them, or robbing them or raping the women. That’s just the reality of life in this country.”
David Axelrod, a former chief strategist for President Barack Obama, on CNN Tuesday night called out Pence for saying that calling Duke deplorable would be uncivil: “Calling a white supremacist like David Duke deplorable would definitely not be uncivil.”