A closer look: What's behind Donald Trump KKK comments?

Some parts of the Republican establishment had been warming to Donald Trump, but his recent comments create a dilemma.

Steve Helber/AP
Protesters hold signs outside Radford University in Radford, Va., Monday, before an appearance by Republican presidential candidates.

Donald Trump says he really, truly does not want the support of white supremacists. He appeared to accept an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke over the weekend because he misheard a question due to a “very bad earpiece,” Mr. Trump told NBC’s “Today” during a Monday appearance.

“I disavowed David Duke all weekend long, on Facebook, on Twitter and obviously it’s never enough. Ridiculous,” Trump said on “Today.”

It’s true Trump had previously rejected Mr. Duke’s endorsement. But he might not have been quite as emphatic about it as he claimed. And it’s indicative that The Donald did not get much benefit of the doubt on this question. Even some right-leaning pundits appeared to have an uneasy feeling that Trump could be capable of embracing the KKK.

After all, the GOP primary seems to be a contest in which the previous bounds of acceptable discourse have been shredded. The candidates now throw the basest of schoolyard taunts at each other, involving hand size, propensity to sweat, and tans. Given Trump’s harsh statements about Mexican immigrant “rapists” and punching protestors in the face, what’s a pat on the back from a Grand Dragon?

Trump’s “feigned ignorance” of the KKK is “just the latest in a string of incidents that suggest to critics that Donald Trump is using bigotry to fuel his controversial campaign,” writes conservative cable news host Joe Scarborough today in a Washington Post opinion piece.

Last Wednesday, David Duke – a white nationalist and radio host who is a former KKK leader – said on air that voting for any candidate other than Trump is “really treason to your heritage.”

Asked about Duke’s comment Friday during his appearance with new backer Chris Christie, Trump waved the question off. “I disavow, OK?” he said curtly, perhaps annoyed at a query off-topic from the Christie endorsement.

Then on Sunday, ABC’s Jake Tapper raised the subject again. He asked Trump if he would unequivocally reject the support of Duke or any other white supremacist.

In response Trump claimed ignorance of the situation.

“Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” said Trump. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists . . . Did he endorse me or what’s going on, because you know, I know nothing about David Duke.”

Lots of critics hit Trump in response to this apparent equivocation. In general their reaction was astonishment: how hard is it to reject racism after hearing the words “David Duke” and “white supremacists”?

Trump’s GOP rivals were predictably harsh.

“We cannot be a party that nominates someone who refused to condemn white supremacist and the Ku Klux Klan,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas tweeted “Really sad ... we should all agree racism is abhorrent.”

Trump responded with his “faulty earpiece” excuse for the answer. He said he had not heard the question correctly while sitting in his Florida home and had thus danced around the issue.

It’s possible that the answer is true. But as numerous critics pointed out, it’s not credible for Trump to say he didn’t know who David Duke is at all. He’d discussed Duke in the past and had rejected his endorsement days previously.

Was Trump just having a hard time rejecting the approval of someone who’d backed him? Or, in what right-leaning Allapundit at Hot Air called “the least charitable possibility,” was Trump actually taking racist supporters into account, and avoiding saying anything bad about them on a high-profile news show in advance of Super Tuesday in the South?

“So, pressed by Tapper, he played dumb with the cameras rolling and then did another perfunctory disavowal on Twitter later to try to clean up the mess for the benefit of media types,” writes Allahpundit.

It’s unlikely any of this will affect Trump’s vote on Tuesday. His supporters have shown no inclination to back away from him due to his words. If anything, controversy makes them cling tighter: this is Trump standing up to the political correctness police of the mainstream media.

The Republican Party as a whole is another matter. Trump appears willing to say anything at any time, and that puts other elected members of the GOP and top officials in a very difficult position. If Trump wins the nomination, these other Republicans will face an endless stream of questions as to whether they support the party nominee’s latest controversial proclamation. That’s exhausting for all and possible electorally fatal for some, such as Senate candidates in purple state races.

That’s a big reason why some Republicans now say openly they won’t support Trump if he wins the party presidential bid. So far, Trump appears to be winning his “Red Queen Race” of dominating the news cycle with ever-more-outrageous comments and moves. But in a general election he will face far more focused opposition from a Democratic Party that is currently storing opposition research ammunition.

“Come November, Trump may not be rejecting the KKK, but his voters are going to reject him,” writes conservative commentator Erick Erickson today at The Resurgent. “The Democrats and outside groups are going to make Trump so radioactive that his own supporters will not vote for him.”

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