GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump walked straight into a mine field Sunday when he told CNN’s State of the Union interviewer that he didn’t “know anything about” former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.
“Voting for these people, voting against Donald Trump at this point, is really treason to your heritage,” Duke had said last week on the David Duke Radio Program.
The New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) immediately called on Trump to condemn Duke and the KKK. (The organization also followed up its demand by launching a campaign to educate all the candidates about extremism and hate groups.)
CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump whether he was prepared to condemn Duke and the KKK, as the ADL had asked him to do.
Duke meanwhile had also posted a long post supporting Trump on his Facebook page a few days earlier, together with denials of any current connection with the KKK and self-congratulatory, anti-Semitic harangues about being “the most well-known American who reveals the facts of the Jewish tribalist takeover of our media.”
Trump seemed to be caught unawares, and did a backstep.
“Honestly, I don’t know David Duke. I don’t believe I’ve ever met him. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet him. And I just don’t know anything about him,” Trump replied. “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” he said. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”
But after the interview, Trump recalled he had already disavowed Duke and his former racist colleagues at a news conference last Friday – a fact he tweeted after the program.
As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke- I disavow. pic.twitter.com/OIXFKPUlz2
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2016
It’s not even the first time he has done so; Trump also had disavowed Duke in February 2000, according to Politico.
Trump was asked about Duke by reporters at that time and said then that he disavowed him. He responded to a withering storm of criticism following Sunday’s show by sharing a clip of his answer on Twitter.
The exchange precedes Super Tuesday, during which a dozen states, most of which are in the South, are set to go to the polls for primary elections.
Trump meanwhile has picked up two key endorsements, including one from a major player in the South.
U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions endorsed Donald Trump on Sunday at a rally held in his home state of Alabama, saying, “This is not a campaign, this is a movement.” Sessions is the first Senator to endorse Trump.
But he has also already received endorsements over the weekend from Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Paul LePage of Maine, and former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
The growing swell of support could be a sign that Republican Party leaders are starting to accept that Trump will likely be their nominee.
“I can guarantee you that the one person that Hillary and Bill Clinton do not want to see on that stage come next September is Donald Trump,” Christie said during his endorsement on Friday.
“They do not know the play book with Donald Trump because… he is rewriting the play book of American politics. He is providing strong leadership that is not dependent upon the status quo.”
Christie said he would lend his support to help Trump from now until the election and then after as well. The remark gives rise to speculation that perhaps he and Trump have discussed a position for Christie in a future Trump administration.