LGBT rights groups were among those on Monday criticizing Donald Trump for his controversial refusal to disavow an endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said Trump’s refusal to condemn the KKK “reveals everything about how far he will go to cause pain.”
“At a time when our country is faced with an epidemic of violence that targets young black men and women, including transgender women of color, we need all the presidential candidates to support policing and criminal justice reform and to take more action to end racism and racial injustice in our nation,” Carey said. “Mr. Trump’s words have real life consequences that go well beyond the podium. His racism, bigotry, xenophobia and hate language continues to fuel violence against marginalized communities and people of color all across the nation.”
Sharon Lettman-Hicks, CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, said Trump’s refusal to condemn the KKK was representative of each of the Republican candidates running for president, calling them “sad and disheartening.”
“The conduct of their candidates, including — but not limited to — Donald Trump, beg the question: Where is our country headed?” Lettman-Hicks said. “The latest shenanigans of being ignorant of the KKK is laughable. However, it is no worse than all the bigotry, phobias, disrespect and downright shameful behavior we have experienced for this entire election season. Even Rubio has decided to shift his behavior to the lowest common denominator. I wonder if he wakes up now and says this is what Jesus would do! Pitiful.”
Trump made the comments — the latest for him in a campaign characterized by attacks against marginalized groups — during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
When host Jake Tapper twice asked the candidate whether he’d disavow David Duke and support from white supremacists, Trump refused to answer, saying he’s heard nothing about Duke or the groups Tapper referenced.
“Well just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” Trump said. “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.”
As consternation over Trump’s refusal to condemn Duke developed, Trump tweeted out his earlier disavowal of the endorsement on Friday during the news conference when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed the candidate.
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
On Monday during an interview the NBC’s “Today,” Trump blamed a “lousy earpiece” for his refusal to condemn Duke, saying he couldn’t hear Tapper’s question. The candidate pointed out he disavowed Duke last week, but still won’t comment on other groups because he doesn’t know who they are.
The later comments weren’t enough for his detractors, including LGBT advocates who continued to criticize Trump for refusing to take up an opportunity to repudiate a self-avowed white supremacist.
JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of policy and political affairs, said in the aftermath of Trump’s remarks supporters of equality should take heed of his success in the Republican primary.
“The fact that Donald Trump is on the cusp of becoming the Republican nominee should be a wake-up call to everyone who cares about equality,” Winterhof said. “Trump has relied on the most despicable kinds of tactics to fuel his campaign. He has proven that no matter what the issue, he will stoke ignorance and bigotry in order to advance his own campaign. We need a president who will fight for equality, fairness, and justice for all Americans — not someone who will literally say or do anything to win.”
Duke, who founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, has become a central figure in the white supremacist movement. A former state lawmaker in Louisiana, Duke has been critical of America’s ties to Israel and decried what he called “Jewish supremacism.”
Although Duke, 65, has said during an interview with the The Daily Beast he hasn’t formally endorsed Trump because he thinks the candidate is too friendly with Jewish people, the white supremacist leader has called the candidate “the best of the lot” and urged followers to listen to him.
Trump’s refusal to condemn Duke and the KKK has served as a unifying force within a highly contested Democratic primary. Democratic candidate Bernard Sanders on Sunday tweeted his condemnation of Trump for his comments, saying, “America’s first black president cannot and will not be succeeded by a hatemonger who refuses to condemn the KKK.” His rival, Hillary Clinton, took the unusual step of retweeting him.
America’s first black president cannot and will not be succeeded by a hatemonger who refuses to condemn the KKK. — Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 28, 2016
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during his regular briefing on Monday Trump’s refusal to disavow Duke gives voters “all we need to know” about the candidate.
“I know Mr. Trump says there’s more he needs to learn about Mr. Duke before he can render an opinion, but I think we now know all we need to know about Mr. Trump to render our own personal opinion of his candidacy,” Earnest said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chair of the congressional Transgender Equality Task Force, said he’s long been disturbed by the racist rhetoric coming from Trump’s campaign and the candidate’s refusal to denounce white supremacist groups demonstrates “he is openly welcoming their help.”
“Let us not mince words about how dangerous this has become,” Honda said. “The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups are responsible for the lynchings of thousands of our African-American brothers and sisters. They are anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, and fundamentally opposed to everything this country stands for. The KKK should be nothing more than a footnote in a dark chapter of American history, but here is the Republican frontrunner in the presidential primary accepting their support.”
On the Republican side, Trump’s comments have largely resulted in condemnation as well. Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said on Twitter his party cannot accept someone who refuses to condemn the KKK.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 28, 2016
We cannot be a party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan. — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 28, 2016
John Kasich calls news of Donald Trump and the KKK “horrific” https://t.co/6oVhMMoG4D
— Ben Gittleson (@bgittleson) February 28, 2016
Carson remained silent on his Twitter account about Trump in the aftermath of his remarks. The Washington Blade placed a call to the Carson campaign seeking comment.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who dropped out of the presidential race after the Iowa caucuses, said Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Duke and the KKK are “absolutely abominable,” but defended Trump and pointed to comments the candidate made disavowing the white supremacist.
“Does anybody think Donald Trump is a racist?” Huckabee said. “I don’t. I mean, I really don’t. I don’t know of anything in his life that indicates that this man has racist tendencies.” Another Republican who assailed Trump was 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who echoed current Republican candidates in condemnation of the real estate magnate.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, was succinct in his disapproval of Trump.
“No candidate should equivocate when it comes to denouncing organizations like that. Period,” Angelo said.