Last week, former KKK leader and anti-Semite David Duke announced on his radio program (I didn’t know he even had one!) that he supported Donald Trump and was going to vote for him. “Voting for these people [Cruz, Rubio and Carson], voting against Donald Trump at this point, is really treason to your heritage,” Duke added.
Trump was peppered with questions about the endorsement Friday. He dismissed it, saying, “I didn’t even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? OK, alright. I disavow, OK?”
Last summer, when Duke said positive things about Trump, The Donald was quick to denounce him. “I don’t need his endorsement; I certainly wouldn’t want his endorsement,” Trump said in August.
All fine and good.
But consider this exchange yesterday between Trump and CNN’s Jake Tapper:
TAPPER: Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?
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. . .
You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would 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. . .
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 have ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him.
That weird exchange generated all kinds of negative stories over the past 24 hours. Understandably so.
Trump has been quick to ridicule his fellow Republicans with stinging rebukes: “Liar.” “Choke artist.” “Low energy.” Yet when asked about David Duke, Trump, who knows how to verbally “slice and dice” better than anyone we’ve seen, was suddenly at a loss for words.
This morning, Trump blamed his bizarre response on a “lousy” earpiece from CNN, claiming he could hardly hear what Tapper was saying.
I have done remote interviews where it was hard to understand the host. But it is clear from the transcript that Trump did understand that the topic was David Duke and his endorsement. Blaming the earpiece only raises questions about Trump’s honesty.
When Ronald Reagan faced a similar situation in 1984, he said:
Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse. The politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry practiced by the Klan and others have no place in this country, and are destructive of the values for which America has always stood.
Throughout this campaign, I have urged candidates to learn from Trump’s aggressive, direct style. This time, I urge The Donald to learn from Reagan.
Gary L. Bauer served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration for eight years, as Under Secretary of Education and as President Reagan’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor.