Pundits Across Political Spectrum Blast Trump For Declining To Disavow Support From KKK

On the February 28 edition of CNN's State of the Union, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declined to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. Media are lambasting the presidential hopeful for not unequivocally distancing himself from the support of white supremacists, saying his failure to do so “is disqualifying,” likening it to “a Todd Akin moment,” and arguing that Trump's non-response shows he is catering to racists and xenophobes.

Trump Declines To Disavow Support From Former KKK Leader On CNN's State Of The Union

Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke Voices Support For GOP Front-Runner On Radio Show. BuzzFeed News reported that on the February 24 edition of his radio program, white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) grand wizard David Duke urged his listeners to vote and volunteer for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, saying that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” He continued: “I'm not saying I endorse everything about Trump, in fact I haven't formally endorsed him. But I do support his candidacy, and I support voting for him as a strategic action.” [BuzzFeed News, 2/25/16]

CNN's Jake Tapper Asks Trump: “Will You Unequivocally Condemn David Duke?” On the February 28 edition of CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper asked Trump about Duke's support for him and whether he would “unequivocally condemn” the former KKK leader and disavow support from Duke and other white supremacist groups, including the KKK. Trump responded to Tapper's question by saying, “I don't know anything about David Duke,” and “You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about.”

JAKE TAPPER (HOST): I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League, which this week called on you to publicly condemn unequivocally the racism of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who recently said that voting against you at this point would be treason to your heritage. Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? 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, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.

TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is even if you don't know about their endorsement there are these groups and individuals endorsing you, would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and you don't want their support?

TRUMP: Well I have to look at the group. I don't know what group you are talking about. 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, but --

TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?

TRUMP: -- you may have groups in there that are totally fine and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups, and I'll let you know.

TAPPER: OK, I mean I'm just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but --

TRUMP: I don't know any -- 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. [CNN, State of the Union2/28/16]

Media React To Trump's Refusal To Disavow By Calling It “Disqualifying” And Revealing Of His Base

Joe Scarborough: Trump Refusing To Disavow David Duke “Is Disqualifying.” On the February 29 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host and former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough said Trump's failure to unambiguously disavow the support of white supremacists “is disqualifying.” He continued, “I mean, is he really so stupid that he thinks Southerners aren't offended by the Ku Klux Klan?” From the February 29 edition of Morning Joe:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: That's disqualifying right there. It's breathtaking. That is disqualifying right there. To say you don't know about the Ku Klux Klan? You don't know about David Duke? And the most stunning thing, Willie Geist, is this isn't buying him a single vote. I mean, is he really so stupid that he thinks Southerners aren't offended by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke? Is he really so ignorant of Southern voters that he thinks this is the way to their heart? To go neutral? To play Switzerland when you're talking about the Klan? And to say he doesn't know enough information about the Klan to condemn them? Exactly what does Donald Trump expect to learn in the next 24 hours about the Klan? I don't get it. [MSNBC, Morning Joe2/29/16

The Weekly Standard's John McCormack: “These Comments [Are] So Politically Toxic ... This Is A Todd Akin Moment.” On the February 29 edition of MSNBC's Morning JoeThe Weekly Standard's John McCormack likened Trump's refusal to explicitly disavow the support of white supremacists to “a Todd Akin moment,” and said, “Todd Akin didn't get to walk back the 'legitimate rape' comments. Donald Trump doesn't get to walk back the KKK comments”:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: So, John McCormack, let's ask the question people have asked before, and always been given wrong answers. Do you think the controversy over this past weekend regarding David Duke and the KKK will hurt Donald Trump in any of these Super Tuesday states? 

JOHN MCCORMACK: It should. I think it may. I think that a lot of Southerners don't like the idea that they're being treated as if they're racist and that if you play coy or play footsy with the KKK that you're going to be helped in the South. I think there will be -- maybe a little bit of a backlash. Maybe it's too late. But I do think these comments -- they're so politically toxic, you know, this is a Todd Akin moment. Todd Akin didn't get to walk back the “legitimate rape” comments. Donald Trump doesn't get to walk back the KKK comments, so for a general election, just toxic here, and I think it ensures that this fight goes on after Super Tuesday. It's mathematically impossible to get such a big delegate lead tomorrow night that the race is over, so this race is going to continue. Maybe Trump will end up winning, he's ahead everywhere right now. [MSNBC, Morning Joe2/29/16]

Slate's Michelle Goldberg: “Donald Trump Can't Disavow The KKK Because It Might Demoralize His Base.” In a February 28 article, Slate's Michelle Goldberg wrote that "[w]hat's interesting" about Trump's refusal to disavow David Duke is that he's doing it because he does not want to “demoralize his base.” And, “Given how much white nationalist support he has, he might be right”:

Let us dispel with the notion that Donald Trump doesn't know who David Duke and the KKK are. In 2000, Trump briefly flirted with running for president on the Reform Party ticket, but concluded that the party was too full of extremists. Among them were David Duke, the Louisiana politician and former Grand Wizard of the KKK, right-wing populist Pat Buchannan, and all-purpose fringe figure Lenora Fulani.


What's interesting here is not that Trump is lying, but why he is lying. For most politicians, rejecting the KKK is not a hard call. Trump, however, seems to suspect that doing so will demoralize his base. Given how much white nationalist support he has, he might be right.

Indeed, Trump's complete mendacity coexists with a twisted sort of honesty about his own motives. He doesn't pretend to be anything but a bigot and a bully. Sunday, a few hours before refusing to condemn white supremacists, he retweeted @ilduce2016, a Twitter bot created by Gawker's Ashley Feinberg that posts Mussolini quotes, ascribing them to Trump. (Its avatar is a photo of the Italian fascist sporting Trump's poufy orange comb-over.) The quote Trump retweeted was, “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep,” followed by the hashtag #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. When Chuck Todd asked Trump about it on Meet The Press, Trump responded, “Mussolini was Mussolini. It's a very good quote, it's a very interesting quote. I know who said it, but what difference does it make whether it's Mussolini or somebody else?”

“You want to be associated with a fascist?” Todd asked. “No, I want to be associated with interesting quotes,” Trump replied. His associations are certainly interesting. And to paraphrase Marco Rubio, it seems like he knows exactly what he's doing. [Slate, 2/28/16]

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum: “Donald Trump Is Afraid To Denounce The Ku Klux Klan” Because Of “The Xenophobe Vote.” In a February 28 blog post, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum speculated that Trump's refusal to unequivocally denounce the KKK shows Trump “knows perfectly well where his core base of support lies. Why take the chance of pissing off the xenophobe vote?” From the February 28 article:

This is from the man who bragged a couple of months ago that “I have the world's greatest memory. It's one thing everyone agrees on.” Obviously, then, the only conclusion we can draw is that Trump doesn't want to denounce the KKK. After all, I'm sure he knows perfectly well where his core base of support lies. Why take the chance of pissing off the xenophobe vote? [Mother Jones2/28/16]