WASHINGTON ― Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has repeatedly found himself needing to assure voters that he doesn’t support white supremacists. The GOP presidential nominee did it again this past weekend, denouncing former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, a Trump supporter who’s running for Senate in Louisiana.
But Trump’s rebukes for the racists who love him ring hollow, given how often his campaign openly courts these groups.
When hate groups or their leaders support him, Trump makes half-hearted apologies or simply feigns ignorance. He accepted (and later returned) money from a well-known white separatist, then selected him as a delegate. (”Database error,” the campaign later said.) He denounced pro-Trump white nationalist robocalls, but acknowledged that “people are extremely angry.” His son did an interview with a white nationalist radio host, then said he wasn’t aware of the host’s background. Rather than apologize for smearing a judge’s Mexican heritage, Trump doubled down. He shared a false racist meme and retweeted a Twitter user called “WhiteGenocideTM” listed as living in “Jewmerica” and a Dutch white supremacist ― the latter at least six times. He tweeted an anti-Semitic meme about Hillary Clinton that was reportedly created by white supremacists. And just last weekend, one of his foreign policy advisers shared a tweet that included the phrase: “Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.”
“Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations [of Duke] are not sincere,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The sad reality is that David Duke and Donald Trump are appealing to precisely the same constituency.” The Trump and Duke campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.
Duke, a longtime neo-Nazi, has publicly praised the real estate mogul for months. Last August, he called Trump’s candidacy “a great thing,” and noted that Trump was “the best of the lot.” At that point, Trump’s nativist platform was clear — he had made inflammatory comments about Mexican “rapists” earlier that summer — but Trump still had an opportunity to distance himself from the white nationalist movement.
Instead, in February, he utterly failed to denounce Duke. “I know nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists,” Trump said on CNN. “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about.” In contrast, his then-opponent Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said, “You say, ‘David Duke’ to me, I say, ‘racist,’ immediately.”
Amid an onslaught of public criticism, Trump disavowed Duke and blamed his initial remarks on a “very bad earpiece.” This weekend, he was forced to distance himself from the racist again after Duke praised Trump when announcing his Senate run.
At some point, all those rebukes of Duke don’t add up. Even Trump’s latest denouncement of him — ”as quick as you can say it” — was not without wiggle room. When speaking with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” Trump said he would support a Democrat over Duke, but added a caveat: “I guess, depending on who the Democrat (is).”
Potok from the Southern Poverty Law Center called it “about the weakest and most pathetic denunciation yet.”