Trump denounces robocalls from David Duke's campaign: Why now?

Spokespeople from Donald Trump's campaign quickly and explicitly disavowed a robocall from David Duke linking the former Ku Klux Klan leader to the Republican presidential nominee. 

Bryn Stole/Reuters/File
Former KKK leader David Duke speaks to reporters after filing to run as a Republican for US Senate in Baton Rouge, La., July 22.

Donald Trump's campaign denounced a robocall from US Senate candidate and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke on Monday, calling Mr. Duke's self-association with Mr. Trump "absolutely disgusting."

In the robocall, Duke urges listeners to "stand up and vote" for both himself and Donald Trump.

"I'll tell the truth that no other candidate will dare say," he says. "Unless massive immigration is stopped now, we'll be out-numbered and out-voted in our own nation. It's happening. We're losing our gun rights, our free speech. We're taxed to death. We're losing our jobs and businesses to unfair trade. We're losing our country. Look at the Super Bowl salute to the Black Panther cop killers."

Trump's spokespeople were quick to distance the Republican presidential nominee from Duke and his call, telling Politico that the Trump campaign has "no knowledge of these calls or any related activities" and "has continued to denounce David Duke and any group or individual associated with a message of hate."

But Trump has not always been so clear in his disavowal of Duke and other members of the alt-right movement. In February, after Duke, a radio host, told his audience that voting for any candidate other than Donald Trump "is really treason to your heritage," Trump refused to explicitly condemn the endorsement.

Instead, in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Trump responded that he didn't know anything about David Duke or the Ku Klux Klan, adding, "You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about." (While Trump may not have known anything about David Duke in 2016, he was familiar with him in 2000, when he said in a statement that Duke and other members of the Reform Party were "not company I wish to keep."

Shortly after his vague comments, which were met with sharp criticism from both Democrats and Republicans alike, Trump officially denounced the endorsement, saying, "David Duke endorsed me? OK, alright. I disavow, OK?" 

Since then, Duke has continued to link himself and his ideas to the Trump campaign. In July, when Duke announced his own campaign for US Senate, the former Klan leader said he was "overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues I've championed for years." 

Despite Trump's public disavowals of Duke and the alt-right movement, the Republican presidential candidate has found a core fanbase in its members. But now, as Trump struggles to win over college-educated whites, he has begun to adjust some of his campaign strategies to appeal to a broader range of conservatives. As the Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson reported earlier this week: 

As the New York mogul has driven some of his base away – including, significantly, suburban white women – he has had to reach deeper and deeper into the conservative movement for fans. He has landed on a strain of American politics that may be as vexing as it is apparently ascendant. That became obvious as Trump struggled to ease his tough immigration rhetoric this week – key to the alt-right's support – while not seeming to ease it. 

Trump's opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, has used Duke's endorsements of Trump against him in the past. A video released by the Clinton campaign last week features Duke urging voters to support Trump, as well as another KKK leader, identified only as the Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, saying: "The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes, we believe in."

But some have argued that Clinton's campaign has gone too far in linking Trump with the Klan and similar groups. Last week, her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, was criticized by Republicans for saying that Trump was "pushing" the KKK's and Duke's "values."

"Tim Kaine sunk to new lows with dirty and deplorable attacks which have no place in this campaign," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement. "No matter how desperate he is to distract from his running mate Hillary Clinton's litany of corruption scandals, there is no excuse for these vile and baseless smears."

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