In what appeared to be a fear of alienating the xenophobic vote, Donald Trump on Sunday refused to denounceformer Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and otherwhite supremacistgroupsthat are ferventlysupporting his campaign.
During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday morning, Tapper asked Trump whether he would disavow Duke and other hate groups backing his campaign. But Trump couldn’t bring himself to do so.
Last week Duke, aformer Louisiana state representative, told listeners on his “David Duke Radio Program” to start volunteering for Trump, saying”voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” Duke added that he has not “formally endorsed him, but I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action. I hope he does everything we hope he will do.”
And in a Facebook post, the following day, Duke wrote that he thinks Trump “deserves a close look by those who believe the era of political correctness needs to come to an end.”
But in his CNN interview with Tapper, Trump could not come to disavow Duke.
“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK” Trump said. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know. I don’t know did he endorse me, or what’s going on Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”
Trump was pressed three times on whether he would distance himself from Duke and the Ku Klux Klan.
“I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about,” Trump repeated. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong. You may have groups in there that are totally fine it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups and I’ll let you know.”
Tapper responded: “OK. I’m just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but” Trump, interrupting, said: “Honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.”
But it appears that Trump does, in fact, know Duke or at least knows enough about him.
In 2000, following his brief bid to be the presidential nominee of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, Trump said in a quote reported by the New York Times at the time: “The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. (Pat) Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. (Lenora) Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”
And based on Trump’s own assertions, this is not something he would have forgotten. In November, amid the controversy of his comments that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the Sept. 11 attacks, Trump boasted: “I have the world’s greatest memory. It’s one thing everyone agrees on.”
During a Friday press conference, two days prior to his interview with Tapper, Trump said he knew of Duke when he was asked similar questions, saying: “David Duke endorsed me OK, all right. I disavow, OK”
Following the criticism of his “State of the Union” appearance later Sunday, Trump referenced that Friday comment in a tweet.
Trump’s fellow 2016 Republican candidates jumped on the issue Sunday. During a rally in Virginia, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said: “We cannot be the party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan,” adding, “By the way, not only is that wrong, it makes him unelectable. How are we going to grow our party with a nominee that refuses to condemn the Ku Klux Klan Don’t tell me he doesn’t know what the Ku Klux Klan is. This is serious.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz went on on Twitter, saying, “Really sad. @realDonaldTrump you’re better than this. We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent.”
Meanwhile, white supremacists are strong backers of Trump, whether or not hedisavows their support. Last month, a white nationalist super PAC paid for a pro-Trump robocall to voters that said, “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”