Mike Pence doesn’t want David Duke’s support, but under no circumstances will he call him “deplorable.”
That’s what Donald Trump’s running mate told a roomful of reporters on Capitol Hill this morning. The Trump camp has faced a host of questions about their loyal backing from the racist alt-right ever since Hillary Clinton said half their supporters could go in a “basket of deplorables.” Clinton later walked back the remark, saying “half” was an overstatement. And the Trump campaign cut an ad saying her comment was contemptuous and made her unfit to be president.
Reporters have kept pressing Pence on whether he’ll use the word “deplorable” to describe any of his supporters. And so far, no dice. That includes David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan now running a long-shot Senate campaign in Louisiana. On CNN on Monday, Pence disavowed Duke’s support but refused to describe him using the d-word.
Today at the press conference, he again opted out of using that particular descriptor for Duke.
“I’m not in the name-calling business,” the Indiana governor said.
He referred to Duke as a “bad man,” but added that he was “not going to validate the language Hillary Clinton used to describe the American people.”
In other words, Mike Pence will not use the word “deplorable” under any circumstances to describe anyone. Including David Duke.
That may please the former KKK leader. Duke told BuzzFeed on Monday that he appreciated Pence’s decision to “reject this absolute controlled media.” On Tuesday, Duke added it was a “real positive thing for all of us” that Pence didn’t denounce him.
Still, Pence reiterated that he and Trump don’t want the white supremacists, like those in the alt-right, to back them.
And he lavished praise on one of the alt-right’s most loathed Republicans: Speaker Paul Ryan. Alt-right figures hate Ryan for supporting free-trade deals and more open immigration policies. And conservative figures like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham criticize him for the same reasons. Steve Bannon, Trump’s new campaign chief executive, even essentially endorsed Ryan’s far-right primary challenger, Paul Nehlen.
Pence––who has praised free-trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Ingraham and Bannon loathe–said he feels differently. When a reporter asked him if Ryan’s willingness to criticize Trump hindered their efforts to court moderate Republicans, Pence was entirely positive about the Speaker.
“My and Donald Trump’s respect and appreciation of Speaker Paul Ryan is boundless,” Pence said.
To review: David Duke is bad and Paul Ryan is good.