There are several possible explanations for why it took Donald Trump so long to denounce an endorsement by the nation’s most notorious racist and anti-Semite, David Duke.
When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard telling his white supremacist followers to vote for Trump, the GOP frontrunner said, “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.”
If Trump really never heard of Duke, whom he denounced by name in a 2000 op-ed in The New York Times,
that might suggest the 69-year-old real estate developer, who boasts having “the world’s greatest memory,” is suffering from early onset dementia.
Or it might simply be that he’s a liar.
That may help explain Trump’s claim that CNN gave him a faulty earpiece and he didn’t understand Tapper’s question. Anyone who reads the exchange knows that doesn’t wash.
The Trump-KKK episode is indicative of a larger problem in this year’s bitter race for the GOP presidential nomination.
If you had to define the contest in a single word it would be: Hate.
Trump is leading the pack in this category as well as in the polls, but he’s got a pair of Cuban-American senators moving in on him.
Ted Cruz has been called the most despised member of the Senate, and that’s just by his Republican colleagues. He’s becoming the heir to Richard Nixon in the dirty tricks department. He’s suggesting the real reason Trump won’t release his tax returns is they might reveal his “mafia” connections.
Cruz claims to love Israel and Jews but he embraces an evangelical preacher who claims God sent Hitler to hunt the Jews. He is “grateful” for the “prayers and support” of the Rev. Mike Bickle, who preaches that Jews will die if they reject Jesus as their savior.
That’s apparently the same deity that anointed Ted to run for president in a message to the senator’s wife, Heidi. The senator has said that if he is president he will put his interpretation of the Bible ahead of the Constitution.
Cruz’s leading surrogate is his father, Rafael Cruz, a fiery preacher who believes America should be more of a theocracy; he’s also an outspoken critic of gay rights and called Barack Obama an “outright Marxist [who] seeks to destroy all concept of God” and should go “back to Kenya.”
Trump and the two senators trade playground taunts about wetting their pants, wearing heavy makeup, flop sweats and tan in a can.
Rubio cleaned up the “size matters” insult for his audiences when he grinningly told them Trump has small hands “and you know what they say about guys with small hands.”
The swapping of slurs doesn’t change the fact that the three pretty much agree on most issues. They are the vanguard in the GOP’s arsenal of anger, fear and hatred of the other.
Their differences on opposition to immigration are more rhetorical than substantive. All are ready to round up 12 million undocumented workers and ship them out, and ban Muslims from entering the country. It’s odd to see the sons of Cuban immigrants vying to see who’s the more anti-immigration. The two senators are only slightly more uncompromising on gay rights and abortion than Trump, but all are ardently pro-gun.
But Trump is the master of hate. He talks about executing Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, advocates the use of torture, ridicules the menstruation and bathroom use by women and mocks a physically handicapped reporter. When a protester shouted at him, Trump said, “I’d like to punch him in the face” and see him “carried out on a stretcher.”
The David Duke incident gave the two senators a chance to sound righteous and denounce the frontrunner.
The Klansman’s endorsement is understandable, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which put Trump on the cover of its report titled, “The Year in Hate and Extremism.”
“Donald Trump’s demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims have electrified the radical right, leading to glowing endorsements from white nationalist leaders....[who’ve] dubbed Trump their ‘Glorious Leader’,” the group wrote. “Instead of distancing himself from such supporters, Trump has retweeted their hate posts – then denied knowing he did so.”
The Anti-Defamation League, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and other Jewish groups have condemned Trump’s racism and fear mongering. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, writing in Religion New Service about Trump’s campaign style and rhetoric, tells Jewish Republicans, “As yourselves: would you want your child to speak this way?” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a former Florida Republican congressman and Trump buddy, said the Duke episode “disqualified” Trump from being president.
Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, said, “Any candidate who cannot immediately condemn a hate group like the KKK does not represent the Republican Party, and will not unite it. If Donald Trump can’t take a stand against the KKK, we cannot trust him to stand up for America against Putin, Iran or ISIS [Islamic State].”
Chris Nelson, a veteran political analyst, said Trump “has no political moral center.”
As recently as this weekend he was still spreading the “birtherism” racist conspiracy theory that Obama was is not a legitimate president because he wasn’t born in the United States. He’s also expanding the campaign to disqualify Cruz and Rubio on similar grounds.
Former CIA director Gen. Michael Haydon said it is possible the US military would refuse to follow orders given by a president Trump if he decides to make good on certain campaign pledges.
Watching and listening to Trump’s hate-saturated rants and the crowds who devour them is chillingly reminiscent of another angry demagogue in the 1930s who vowed to drive out the unwanted minorities and make his country great again. That’s why this year’s hate-saturated race for the GOP nomination, led by Trump, is almost certain to produce a record low tally of Jewish voters for the Republican ticket in November.