Scarborough: Trump's comments on Duke are disqualifying

Critics of the Donald Trump phenomenon have blasted the media for giving him a free ride, and some have singled out figures like Joe Scarborough in particular, fairly or not. Today, though, Scarborough torches Trump for his failure to condemn David Duke and white supremacists in yesterday’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union, calling the dodge “disqualifying”:

In a Washington Post essay, Scarborough said either Trump was being deliberately evasive or astoundingly ignorant:

The first question is why would Trump pretend to be so ignorant of American history that he refused to pass judgment on the Ku Klux Klan before receiving additional information? What kind of facts could possibly mitigate a century of sins committed by a violent hate group whose racist crimes terrorized Americans and placed a shameful blot on this nation’s history?

Why would the same man who claims to have “the world’s greatest memory”say “I don’t know anything about David Duke” just two days after he condemned the former Klansman in a nationally televised press conference? And with that amazing memory, how could Donald Trump have forgotten that he himself refused to run for president as a Reform Party nominee in 2000 because “Klansman” David Duke was a member of that same party?

These are questions that have no good answers for a Republican Party on the verge of nominating a man who sounds more like a Dixiecrat from the 1950s than the kind of nominee the GOP needs four years after losing Hispanics by 44 percent, Asian-Americans by 47 percent, and black Americans by 87 percent.

This morning, Trump blamed a “lousy earpiece” for his answer, claiming that he didn’t understand the question Tapper asked:

Donald Trump blamed CNN for providing a “lousy earpiece” in explaining his non-answer to the network on Sunday when asked to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke.

“I’m sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying. But what I heard was various groups, and I don’t mind disavowing anybody, and I disavowed David Duke and I disavowed him the day before at a major news conference, which is surprising because he was at the major news conference, CNN was at the major news conference, and they heard me very easily disavow David Duke,” the Republican presidential frontrunner explained on NBC’s “Today.”

“Now, I go, and I sit down again, I have a lousy earpiece that is provided by them, and frankly, he talked about groups,” Trump said, referring to the question from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who asked him about a call from the Anti-Defamation League to denounce the groups endorsing his presidential run. “He also talked about groups. And I have no problem with disavowing groups, but I’d at least like to know who they are. It would be very unfair to disavow a group, Matt, if the group shouldn’t be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke.”

It seems pretty difficult to credit that explanation, considering that Trump actually repeated “David Duke” and “white supremacists” in his answer:

TAPPER: 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. I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, 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.

TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don’t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and you don’t want their support?

TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.

TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?

TRUMP: But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So, give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.

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 heard the question. He just didn’t want to answer it. He had rejected Duke’s endorsement late last week, when he apparently knew enough about the white supremacist to do so, but a few days later professed ignorance explicitly about Duke and white supremacism in general. As Scarborough asks, in what universe would this be a tough question to answer?

This isn’t about political correctness; it’s about what kind of party the GOP will become over the next year. Scarborough mentions the horrendous splits in votes for Republicans in minority communities, and that matters even more in 2016 because the battleground states have become more diverse, rather than less so. In my research for Going Red (Crown Forum, April 12th), the key counties in seven critical swing states have all undergone serious demographic shifts — mainly through growth and relocation, but in one case because of a shrinking population and economic base. These counties had been Republican bastions, but now look much more like the US population as a whole. If Republicans ever plan to compete for the presidency, they have to find ways to reach into these communities and gain the trust of Hispanics, African-Americans, and young people who may be open to the authentic conservative message. Playing footsie with the Klan and David Duke will slam the door on those prospects, and with them any hope of capturing the White House in 2016.