The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump & the KKK

There has been enormous pushback from various corners on the right to any criticism of Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow — never mind denounce — David Duke and the KKK in that CNN interview last Sunday. And before you start screaming that Trump disavowed (albeit somewhat grudgingly and bloodlessly) the Friday before and he’s disavowed since on Twitter: I know. Fine. He’s a hero. I would expect nothing less from the owner of the Mar-a-Lago club, the tip of the spear in the battle for universal brotherhood.

To listen to countless people on the right these days, the real outrage is that Obama didn’t disavow Reverend Wright or the Black Panthers (I most recently heard this talking point on The Five the other night). The upshot being Republicans shouldn’t be expected to disavow the Klan if Democrats don’t disavow the racist demagogues, goons, and thugs skulking in their closets.

First of all, this is an insane argument. Refusing to condemn evil people because someone else won’t condemn other evil people is reprehensible as a matter of logic and morality.

Second, it’s politically idiotic. Whether you think it’s fair or not, the GOP has a reputation for being bigoted, racist or not “inclusive” enough — and the Democratic party doesn’t. I think the GOP’s reputation is mostly unfair and is fueled by incredibly cynical attacks from Democrats and their water-carriers in the press. But you know what makes the Left’s job so much easier? Watching Republicans and their defenders in the media play coy about denouncing the G-d damn Ku Klux Klan!

Third, the issue for me really isn’t whether Trump is a Klan-loving racist. I never thought that (and you can fall far short of that standard and still not have admirable views on various issues), but that isn’t really what matters in this context.

It is obvious to me that Trump didn’t want to denounce David Duke and the Klan in the Jake Tapper interview. The “bad earpiece” explanation is a transparent lie, and when others invoke it, they are simply carrying water for Trump.

Trump quite clearly heard the question. He mentioned David Duke’s name himself several times. He simply didn’t want to denounce Duke. And when Tapper mentioned the KKK, Trump still didn’t say, “Wait a second . . . ” and rip into the Klan.

The question is, Why? One plausible answer offered by many folks is that he just didn’t want to dance to Tapper’s tune. And I get that.

But even when Trump disavowed Duke in the Friday press, this is how he did it:

“David Duke endorsed me? OK, all right. I disavow, OK?”

It’s clear he’s simply paying lip service, and reluctantly at that.

Again, the best defense of Trump is that he hates these PC gotcha games by the press. I think that’s plausible and probably explains some of it.

But, denouncing the Klan should be easy. You shouldn’t have to think about it. And you certainly shouldn’t let you’re fear of being called “politically correct” get in the way. That’s beyond asinine. If you want to turn the tables on the interviewer and note that the Klan used to be the militant wing of the Democratic party, go for it. The one thing you shouldn’t do is sound like you’re reluctant to condemn the Klan(!) or that you’re dog-whistling that you don’t really mean it when you do.

Yet when you watch the Tapper interview, it becomes clear what is really going on: He think condemning the Klan will hurt him with conservatives or southerners or both. He needed aides to tell him, “Mr. Trump, sir, it’s okay to disassociate yourself with the KKK.” And so he took to Twitter to clean up the mess he created.

In other words, the issue isn’t that conservative opponents of Trump think he’s a Klan supporting racist, it’s that Trump thinks many of his conservative supporters are. And that’s just one reason I don’t want this guy speaking for me.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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