Asked if he would publicly reject the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said, “I just don’t know anything about him.” That’s nonsense:
- Duke ran for governor of Louisiana in 1991 as a Republican, and Trump said at the time that President George H.W. Bush was right “to come out against” Duke’s campaign. Duke lost but he won a majority of the white vote — which Trump found troubling. “I hate seeing what it represents,” Trump said, referring to what he called the “anger vote.”
- In 2000, Trump considered running for the Reform Party presidential nomination but did not run because he said he did not want to be associated with Pat Buchanan, who had left the Republican Party to seek the Reform Party nomination, and David Duke, who supported Buchanan. Trump at the time called Duke “a bigot, a racist, a problem.”
For several days, Trump has had trouble handling questions about Duke, ever since Duke said on his radio show Feb. 24 that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” BuzzFeed on Feb. 25 reported Duke’s statement of support.
Duke ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for U.S. Senate in 1990 and governor of Louisiana in 1991. In a Nov. 10, 1991, story on Duke’s gubernatorial campaign, the New York Times described Duke as “an open white supremacist and anti-Semite for most of his adult life, who sold Nazi literature from his legislative office in 1989.” The Southern Poverty Law Center on its website refers to Duke as the “most recognizable figure of the American radical right, a neo-Nazi, longtime Klan leader and now international spokesman for Holocaust denial.”
On Feb. 26, Trump held a press conference to announce the endorsement of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. With Christie at his side, Trump was asked how he felt about receiving Duke’s support. “I didn’t even know he endorsed me,” Trump said, clearly irritated by the question. “David Duke endorsed me? OK. Alright. I disavow. OK?”
Trump was again asked about Duke in a Feb. 28 interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” by anchor Jake Tapper.
Tapper, Feb. 28: I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League, which this week called on you to publicly condemn unequivocally the racism of former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who recently said that voting against you at this point would be treason to your heritage. 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.
Trump went on to say that he did not want to condemn any groups until he knew something about them. He told Tapper to “give me a list of the groups” and he would review them. But Tapper returned to Duke.
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.
Trump should be well aware of Duke — especially since Trump once said he decided not to run for president in 2000 in part because of David Duke and his politics.
In 2000, Trump was considering running for the Reform Party nomination. The party had gained a significant following in 1992, when Texas billionaire Ross Perot captured nearly 19 percent of the presidential vote. Perot ran again in 1996, but he won only 8.4 percent of the vote.
But by February 2000, the Reform Party went from decline to disaster. One of the party’s leading figures — Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura — announced that he was leaving the party, citing the possibility that Pat Buchanan would be the party’s presidential nominee and Duke’s support for Buchanan’s nomination. At the time, Ventura explained his decision in an interview on CNN.
Ventura, Feb. 11, 2000: I can’t stay within a national party that, you know, that could well have Pat Buchanan as its presidential nominee. And now the latest word, I hear he’s getting support from David Duke. Well, I can’t be part of that.
Three days later, Ventura appeared again on CNN and said that he “encouraged Donald Trump not to seek their presidential nomination, and he concurred with that and he’s not going to do that now.” That same day, Trump announced he would not seek the Reform Party nomination during an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today Show.” Trump told Lauer the party was “self-destructing.”
Lauer, Feb. 14, 2000: When you say the party is self-destructing, what do you see as the biggest problem with the Reform Party right now?
Trump: Well, you’ve got David Duke just joined — a bigot, a racist, a problem. I mean, this is not exactly the people you want in your party. Buchanan’s a disaster as we’ve, you know, covered. Jesse’s a terrific guy who just left the party. And he, you know, it’s unfortunate, but he just left the party. He’s going to be doing his Independence Party from Minnesota.
Trump also put out a statement that day, according to the New York Times, that referred to Duke as “a Klansman.”
New York Times, Feb. 14, 2000: Mr. Trump painted a fairly dark picture of the Reform Party in his statement, noting the role of Mr. Buchanan, along with the roles of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lenora Fulani, the former standard-bearer of the New Alliance Party and an advocate of Marxist-Leninist politics.
“The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani,” he said in his statement. “This is not company I wish to keep.”
Buchanan won the party’s nomination, but garnered less than one half of 1 percent of the vote in the general election that year.
Trump also spoke out against Duke in 1991 — three days after Duke was defeated in his race for governor. Trump expressed concern in an interview with CNN’s Larry King about Duke’s politics and what it represented. Although Duke lost, he received a majority of the white vote.
King, Nov. 19, 1991: Did the David Duke thing bother you? Fifty-five percent of the whites in Louisiana voted for him.
Trump: I hate —
King: Four hundred New Yorkers contributed.
Trump: I hate seeing what it represents, but I guess it just shows there’s a lot of hostility in this country. There’s a tremendous amount of hostility in the United States.
Trump: It’s anger. I mean, that’s an anger vote. People are angry about what’s happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they’re really in deep trouble. When you talk about the East Coast — it’s not the East Coast. It’s the East Coast, the middle coast, the West Coast —
King: If he runs and Pat Buchanan runs [for president in 1992], might you see a really divided vote?
Trump: Well, I think if they run, or even if David Duke — I mean, George Bush was very, very strong against David Duke. I think if he had it to do again, he might not have gotten involved in that campaign because I think David Duke now, if he runs, takes away almost exclusively Bush votes and then a guy like Cuomo runs — I think Cuomo can win the election.
King: But Bush morally had to come out against him.
Trump: I think Bush had to come out against him. I think Bush — if David Duke runs, David Duke is going to get a lot of votes. Whether that be good or bad, David Duke is going to get a lot of votes. Pat Buchanan — who really has many of the same theories, except it’s in a better package — Pat Buchanan is going to take a lot of votes away from George Bush. So if you have these two guys running, or even one of them running, I think George Bush could be in big trouble.
So, clearly, Trump knows something about David Duke, despite what he said.
Trump, who conducted his “State of the Union” interview remotely from Florida, blamed a bad earpiece for his refusal to disavow Duke and condemn his politics during his interview with Tapper. Trump said he could “hardly hear what [Tapper] was saying.” That may be. But Trump clearly heard the name David Duke. In fact, he repeated it and claimed that he doesn’t know him.
“Honestly, I don’t know David Duke,” Trump told Tapper. “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.”
The record proves him wrong.