Donald Trump’s refusal to distance himself from former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke on CNN Sunday has caused mixed reactions from those who have supported or criticized the Republican frontrunner — including Duke himself.
In a phone interview with The Daily Beast, the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard said it was ridiculous to condemn Trump. “If he disavows me fine," Duke said. "Let him do whatever he thinks he needs to do to become president of the United States."
Duke’s comments come after CNN’s Jake Tapper brought up Duke’s support for the Republican frontrunner on State of the Union on Sunday. "I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists," Trump told CNN. "So I don't know. I don't know — did he endorse me, or what's going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”
When Trump was considering running for president with the Reform Party in 2000, he clearly had knowledge of Duke and his past. And on Friday, when asked about that same matter, Trump said, “I disavow.” After the CNN program, Trump reiterated this stance on Twitter.
Duke said he doesn't outright endorse Trump, because he is opposed to Trump's policy on Israel and torture, but he plans to vote for him and encourages others to do so as well.
"It's good for him to be judicious," Duke said when asked about Trump's examination of the white supremacists supporting him. "He can certainly disagree with David Duke."
Duke said that Trump probably knows him based on media reports, “created by Jewish Zionists,” but might not know his political platform which was a precursor to that of Pat Buchanan and Trump himself, according to Duke.
“I think he knows who I am,” Duke said. “But he doesn’t know what I actually stand for today.”
Trump’s seeming unwillingness to reject the Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard on CNN has put those who have endorsed Trump too in an awkward position.
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of a Dallas megachurch who praised Trump at his post-debate rally on Friday, told The Daily Beast over email that he opposes the KKK. “I obviously condemn the KKK and all it stands for," he wrote. "However, since I haven't seen the interview in question I could not make any comment about it.”
The Daily Beast responded with a link to a short clip from Tapper's interview in which Trump refused to condemn the KKK."Thanks but I think I'll pass on this one!" Jeffress responded.
The chief of staff to Congressman Duncan Hunter, the one of two sitting members of Congress who has endorsed Trump, responded to the situation by saying that “it’s ridiculous to assign guilt through some faint association.”
"Trump said he knows nothing about David Duke and neither do lots of other people,” Hunter’s chief of staff wrote in an email. “If he said something that was wrong, to placate a moderator or pundit, it would have been news fodder to an even higher degree. The greatest Americans to the most repugnant are free to support who they want in a political race at any level. It's ridiculous to assign guilt through some faint association that a candidate never asks for or gives any care about. I think Trump's media-declared ignorance on the topic is good news for voters who care about imbalanced trade, border security or national security. At least we know where Trump is focusing his attention."
Others had sharper words for Trump.
Republican Congressman Pete King told The Daily Beast in a statement, "Donald Trump's refusal to denounce and disavow support from KKK supporter David Duke and white supremacist organizations is indefensible and disgraceful. Trump told Jake Tapper he doesn't know who David Duke is or what white supremacist organizations stand for. If Trump's statement is true, then he is genuinely dumb. If he is lying, that is shameful. In either case, he should not be running to lead the United States.
“As a Catholic I am particularly disgusted because of the KKK's long history and record of vicious anti-Catholicism. And as someone who grew up in Queens, I can say that -unlike Trump- real tough guys aren't afraid to take on the KKK.”
--Betsy Woodruff contributed reporting to this story.