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“A Lot Of People Like Me”: Donald Trump And The Ku Klux Klan: A History

For months, as Donald Trump developed his political repertoire, he adopted an uncharacteristic reply for questions about fascism and the Ku Klux Klan: silence, or something close to it.

He used the technique as early as last August, when his opponents, and the press, still generally regarded him as a summer amusement. On August 26th, Bloomberg Television anchor John Heilemann brought up David Duke, the former Klan Grand Wizard, who had said that Trump was “the best of the lot” in the 2016 campaign. Trump replied that he had no idea who Duke was. Heilemann asked if Trump would repudiate Duke’s endorsement. “Sure,” Trump said, “if that would make you feel better, I would certainly repudiate. I don’t know anything about him.” Changing tack, Heilemann pressed Trump about an article in this magazine, which described Trump’s broad support among neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and other members of the far right who were drawn in by his comments about Mexicans. Trump maintained a posture of indifference. “Honestly, John, I’d have to read the story. A lot of people like me.” The interview moved on to other topics.

It should be noted that Trump’s unfamiliarity with Duke is a recent condition. In 2000, Trump issued a statement that he was no longer considering a run for President with the backing of the Reform Party, partly because it “now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke.”

Throughout last fall and into the winter, Trump continued to accumulate support among white nationalists. In November, on a weekend in which he said that a black protester, at a rally in Alabama, deserved to be “roughed up,” Trump retweeted a graphic composed of false racist statistics on crime; the graphic, it was discovered, originated from a neo-Nazi account that used as its profile image a variation on the swastika. In January, he retweeted the account “@WhiteGenocideTM,” which identified its location as “Jewmerica.” Shortly before the Iowa caucuses, a pro-Trump robocall featured several white supremacists, including the author Jared Taylor, who told voters, “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people.” Each time Trump was asked on Twitter about his white nationalist supporters, the candidate, who is ready to respond, day or night, to critics of his debating style or his golf courses, simply ignored the question.

Only under special circumstances did Trump summon a forceful response on matters of the Klan: in January, BoingBoing unearthed a newspaper report from 1927 on the arraignment of a man with the name and address of Donald Trump’s father; the story was about attendees of a Klan rally who fought with police, though it wasn’t clear from the story why the Trump in the piece was arrested. Asked about it, Donald Trump denied that his father had had any connection to a Klan rally. “It’s a completely false, ridiculous story. He was never there! It never happened. Never took place.”

But recently, as Trump’s campaign has received much belated closer scrutiny, his reliable approach to the Klan problem has faltered. On Thursday, Duke offered his strongest support for the candidate yet, telling radio listeners that a vote for one of Trump’s rivals would be “treason to your heritage.” The next day, when Trump had hoped to focus on his endorsement by Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, a reporter shouted a question about Duke’s embrace, and Trump said, “David Duke endorsed me? O.K., all right, I disavow. O.K.?” For the moment, it worked, and the press conference moved on. Christie, in fact, bore the brunt of the Duke association: he appeared on the front page of the Daily News on Saturday, as the “MAN WITH A KLAN,” with his picture beside a group of hooded Klansmen. In a different spirit, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi news site that long ago endorsed Trump, awarded Christie the title “Heroic Deputy.” (Christie’s overnight evolution from trashing Trump to obeying him repulsed even the political class, a group that is usually more forgiving of self-rationalization. The technology executive Meg Whitman, who had been one of Christie’s top backers, called his alliance with Trump “an astonishing display of political opportunism,” and asked Christie’s donors and supporters “to reject the governor and Donald Trump outright.”)

Over the weekend, Trump’s purported indifference to support from white supremacists and fascists became an inescapable problem. He had retweeted a Mussolini quote from @ilduce2016 (which, it turned out, was an account created by Gawker to trap Trump)—“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep”—and, when asked, on NBC, if he wanted to associate himself with Mussolini, he said that he wanted “to be associated with interesting quotes.” He added, “Mussolini was Mussolini. . . . What difference does it make?” On CNN, Jake Tapper pressed him about David Duke, and Trump, seeming to forget that he had given a one-line disavowal, reverted to a position of theatrical incomprehension: “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, O.K.?” Tapper asked three times if Trump would denounce the Klan’s support, and each time Trump declined. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists,” he said. “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.”

By Monday, less than twenty-four hours before primary voting on Super Tuesday, his non-answers about the Klan were creating a crisis, and Trump introduced a new explanation: audio trouble. “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,” he said on the “Today” show. “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.”

There may be no better measure of the depravity of this campaign season than the realization that it’s not clear whether Trump’s overt appreciation for fascism, and his sustained salute to American racists, will have a positive or negative effect on his campaign. For now, his opponents are rejoicing. Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, pronounced him “unelectable.” Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, called Trump’s comments “just horrific.” But it is by now a truism to note that Trump has survived pratfalls that other politicians have not. A surprisingly large portion of Americans believed him when he pushed a racist campaign denying the birthplace of Barack Obama; a comparably chilling portion of Americans were attracted when he called Mexicans rapists. By the end of the day on Sunday, he had received the endorsement of Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the first sitting senator to officially line up with Trump. Sessions was not likely to be bothered by Trump’s flirtations with the Klan. In 1986, he was rejected from a federal judgeship after saying that he thought the Klan was “O.K. until I learned they smoked pot.”

In the weeks to come, Trump is virtually guaranteed to accumulate additional endorsements from politicians like Christie and Sessions, who have divined their interests in drafting behind the strongest candidate for the Republican nomination. Whether driven by fear of irrelevance, or attracted by the special benefits of being an early adopter, Christie seemed compelled to do it, and now the remnant of his political reputation is going from a solid to a gas. But the true obscenity of his decision, and those of other Trumpists, may take years to be fully appreciated. In an editorial last week, the Washington Post declared that “history will not look kindly on GOP leaders who fail to do everything in their power to prevent a bullying demagogue from becoming their standard-bearer.” That’s true, but history will judge even more harshly those who stand with Trump now that it is indefensibly clear with whom they are standing.

 

By: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, February 29, 2016

March 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ku Klux Klan, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Long Series Of ‘Murder-Suicide’ Incidents”: If Rubio Falters In New Hampshire, Things Could Get Weird For Republicans

The big question for Republicans as the good citizens of New Hampshire prepare to vote tomorrow is whether Saturday night’s candidate debate fundamentally changed anything (not as fundamentally, of course, as Marco Rubio says Barack Obama wants to change America, but enough to mess up Rubio’s day). A John Kasich super-pac wisely did a one-day snap poll and quickly got the results out since they showed both Kasich and Jeb Bush moving past Marco Rubio into second and third place, respectively. Independent pollsters had generally shown Kasich with a bit of a buzz even before the debate; one of the two tracking polls that captured Sunday’s sentiment (from ARG) had Kasich even with Rubio at 16 percent. A Monmouth poll that ended pre-debate on Saturday basically had Rubio, Kasich, Bush, and Cruz in a four-way tie. All indicators show at least as much voter volatility as in Iowa.

What’s different from Iowa, of course, is that virtually no one is doubting Donald Trump will win in New Hampshire. And Ted Cruz’s exact order of finish probably doesn’t matter a great deal, either. Indeed, from the perspective of Team Cruz, keeping as many Establishment candidates alive as possible to mess with Marco Rubio might be worth a poor outcome for their own candidate in a state where his expectations have been low.

For any of the Governors (as they are generally being called at present) who top Rubio in New Hampshire, it means survival for another round. Chris Christie, Rubio’s tormenter Saturday night, has the most ground to make up in New Hampshire, and also has the weakest prospects going forward, with no particular state in sight where he has any kind of natural base until well down the road. It’s also pretty well-known from a long series of “murder-suicide” incidents in political contests that the candidate who damages a rival in a multi-candidate field is often not the beneficiary.

So Kasich is the most likely Marco-beater tomorrow night, with Jeb Bush a decent possibility as well. Either or both would presumably move on to South Carolina, where they’d make an already-long-shot Rubio win over Trump and Cruz significantly more difficult. The same dynamics might be in play in the Super Tuesday primaries of March 1. But it’s unclear whether either of these worthies can hang on until March 15, when their home states hold winner-take-all primaries. In theory this is when Jeb, if he is still around and can somehow top not only his fellow Floridian but Trump and Cruz as well, could knock Rubio right out of the race.

That’s a distant revenge fantasy for Jebbie’s long-suffering backers at present. But the more important point is that a Rubio fade in New Hampshire would provide massive incentives for the surviving governors to go after him with a clawhammer — even as Trump and Cruz pile up delegates in the relatively conservative, evangelical-heavy array of states on the near horizon. In other words, Rubio’s debate stumble could turn out to be the very moment the Establishment most feared. You’d best believe that at some of the choicest Beltway watering holes tomorrow night, there will be prayers that Rubio finishes ahead of the Governors after all and creates the three-man race that looked so likely just a few days ago.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 8, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Marco Rubio, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Doubt It Works?”: Donald Trump Wants To Reclassify Waterboarding So It’s No Longer A War Crime For Him To Order It

While there was some discussion among the Republican candidates at Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire as to whether or not waterboarding was a form of torture (it is), Donald Trump went below and beyond everyone else on stage to insist that not only would he reinstitute waterboarding against America’s enemies, he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” as well. Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning, Trump elaborated on his position and confirmed that he would “go through a process and get [waterboarding] declassified” as a war crime in order to use it, “at a minimum,” against ISIS if he’s elected president. So far, Trump has not explained what forms of torture he would bring back that are worse than waterboarding, which is essentially simulated drowning. “You can say what you want I have no doubt that it does work in terms of information and other things,” Trump insisted to Tapper, though it’s worth noting that torture doesn’t actually work when it comes to gathering useful intelligence from prisoners.

Regarding the rest of the GOP field’s responses to the torture question Saturday night, Ted Cruz stood by the Bush-administration’s discredited assurance that waterboarding was a form of enhanced interrogation, not torture, though either way he wouldn’t “bring it back in any sort of widespread use.” Jeb Bush changed his position, from saying he wouldn’t rule it out, to last night saying that he was happy with Congress’s ban on waterboarding as it was. Marco Rubio dodged the question by insisting it would be inappropriate to discuss his future plans for America’s interrogation techniques. Regardless, though Rubio missed the Senate vote on banning torture, he has said he would have voted against the ban, and on Saturday night championed the idea of filling up Guantánamo with new prisoners to interrogate.

Though he was not asked about it on Saturday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has previously said he did not consider waterboarding torture and would not rule it out as an interrogation method. Carly Fiorina supports the practice as well. Ben Carson has made a statement that seems to suggest he would consider waterboarding prisoners, too. It’s not clear what John Kasich’s position is.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 7, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Enhanced Interrogation, Torture, Waterboarding | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Secret Freak Flag”: Rubio’s Robotic Message In The New Hampshire Debate Was Code-Talk To Right-Wing Conspiracy Nuts

Until the returns roll in from Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, we probably won’t know whether Marco Rubio’s poor performance in Saturday night’s Republican candidate debate was an illusion of the punditry or a real stumble that could open the door to a comeback by his Establishment rivals. In the interim, it’s worth wondering why Rubio went robotic on the particular argument that Barack Obama knows exactly what he is doing with the terrible policies that Republicans think are wrecking the country at home and abroad.

The most popular theory was well articulated by Michael Grunwald at Politico: Acutely aware that his critics think of him as a “Republican Obama,” it was important for Rubio to argue that someone as green as he is could be a competent chief executive. In other words, it was all about him, not really Obama.

But that take focuses on the “knows what he’s doing” portion of the “robotic” talking point. As veteran conservative-watcher Dave Weigel of the Washington Post noted Sunday (as did I a bit more tentatively Saturday night), the rest of what Rubio kept saying is evocative of seven years of conspiracy theories from hard-core right-wing gabbers:

[T]he idea of Obama as a saboteur, who “knows exactly” how to undermine American greatness, is deeply ingrained on the right. The rest of Rubio’s answer, lost in the torrent of mockery, was this:

“Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world. That’s why he passed Obamacare and the stimulus and Dodd-Frank and the deal with Iran. It is a systematic effort to change America.”

This should be familiar to anyone in the tea party movement, and especially familiar to anyone who’s read the Obama-era work of Dinesh D’Souza. Starting with a 2009 cover story in Forbes, D’Souza posited that the president was “the last anticolonial,” a man inculcated with anti-Western values, whose decisions were best understood if one asked how they weakened America.

“Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America,” D’Souza wrote. “In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America’s power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe’s resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.”

Over the next few years, D’Souza adapted that thesis into a book and movie. He found common cause with Glenn Beck, who in his Fox News heyday portrayed every Obama decision as part of a long-term left-wing strategy to destroy wealth and empower the Third World. Beck obsessed over a stock phrase from Obama’s 2008 stump speech — that he would help “fundamentally transform America” — and insisted that he had given the game away.

This is precisely the 2008 stump speech that a host of Twitter critics confronted me with Saturday night when I suggested Rubio was blowing a dog whistle to conspiracy theorists.

If Weigel and I (and the folks at Media Matters, and probably other commentators) are onto something, then why would Rubio choose to get in touch with his inner Glenn Beck in “moderate” New Hampshire? Well, for one thing, there is a vein of tea-party sentiment in the Granite State, even if Christian-right types are a bit thin on the ground. And for another thing, Rubio is undoubtedly looking ahead to a long string of contests in much more conservative states that begin on February 20 in Nevada and South Carolina. And finally, the whole essence of a “dog whistle” is to say something that the initiated understand at a lizard-brain level as a profound message without other people being offended — a particularly useful device to a candidate like Rubio who is trying to straddle ideological lines in the GOP. To “moderates” and to media observers innocent of the Beck/D’Souza meme (which Dr. Ben Carson has also alluded to), the question of whether Obama is incompetent or just wrong may seem like a less-filling/tastes-great distinction. So there’s nothing to lose by waving a secret freak flag to the citizens of Wingnuttia — unless you wave it one time too many and Chris Christie points and laughs.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 8, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, GOP Primary Debates, Marco Rubio, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When The Applause Dies For Jeb Bush”: He Misjudged The Depth Of The Anger And Division Within His Own Party

“Please clap,” Jeb Bush wryly told a subdued crowd in New Hampshire last week, a moment that epitomizes his problem.

The pundits call it lack of traction. Among too many voters it’s lack of interest.

If Jeb bombs in New Hampshire, he’s done. Even if he doesn’t quit the race, it’s over.

A year ago this scenario was unimaginable. He had more money, more brains, more connections and more governing experience than any other Republican wanting to be president. Like many people, I thought his nomination would be a slam dunk.

The gaseous rise of Donald Trump upended everything, but not only for Jeb. The other candidates had to scramble, too. Some did a better job.

Sure, Iowa is a silly place to start a presidential campaign. Its demographics are freakishly white, and the GOP electorate is anomalously dominated by evangelical Christians.

Still, Jeb spent plenty of time and money there, and wound up with only 2.8 percent of the vote. That’s miserably weak, and there’s no positive spin.

What’s happening? The answer is, for better or worse: Not much.

Jeb hasn’t made any huge, embarrassing blunders on the campaign trail. He’s not obnoxious or unlikable. True, he’s not an electrifying personality, but in most election cycles that wouldn’t disqualify him.

Obviously, he misjudged the depth of the anger and division within his own party. He isn’t the only candidate to get caught off guard.

But he is the only Bush on the ballot, and that’s probably hurt him more than it has helped. Jeb isn’t the one who invaded Iraq and basically exploded the Mideast. He isn’t the one who jacked up the deficit with war spending and then left the U.S. economy teetering on a cliff.

That was his brother, but seven years later lots of voters haven’t forgotten. Before committing to Jeb, they need to be convinced that he’s way different from George W., that he’s wiser and more careful, and that he doesn’t have a Dick Cheney blow-up doll riding shotgun.

So far, there is no sign of a grass-roots pro-Jeb frenzy. The fact he was Florida’s governor for two terms isn’t wowing the masses — even in Florida.

Polls here show Jeb trailing Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He is only slightly ahead of the sleepwalking Ben Carson.

How is this possible? That question is echoing among the heavy hitters who gave more than $100 million to Jeb’s super PAC. They’re running out of patience.

Jeb’s new strategy is tag-teaming with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to tear down Rubio, who surged impressively and finished third in Iowa. Christie is playing the Don Rickles role, insulting Rubio in public, while the Bush team bankrolls a flurry of anti-Marco ads in the media.

The New York Times reports that Jeb has already spent $20 million attacking his former protege. I guess this means no more workouts together at the Biltmore gym.

It’s a grim battle for the sane wing of the Republican Party, which means placing at least third in New Hampshire.

The positioning is crucial because Trump’s vaudeville act is starting to fray, and the icy zealotry of Cruz scares many conservatives.

If this were a script, you would now write in a timely entrance by the seasoned, well-credentialed Jeb Bush.

Except, wait — there’s baby-faced, inexperienced Marco ahead of him. Way ahead.

Here’s a guy who has accomplished zero in the Senate, flip-flops when he feels the heat and can’t even manage his own credit cards. How is he beating an old pro like Jeb?

By successfully casting himself as a fresh and electable alternative. Rubio’s only got one speech, but he’s good at it. Ironically, he grew up to be slicker and more calculating than his mentor.

Such is Jeb’s desperation that he has a new campaign commercial using a photo of Terri Schiavo. She was the brain-dead woman whose husband and parents were locked in a legal fight over the continuation of life-support procedures.

As governor, Jeb inserted himself into the case, ultimately involving his president brother and Congress in the effort to keep a feeding tube in Schiavo, who’d been comatose for 13 years.

Eventually the courts put a stop to the political meddling, and she was allowed to die.

The episode was Jeb’s worst mistake in office, an obscene governmental intrusion into a private family tragedy. Now he’s dredging up the memory in hopes of attracting extreme right-to-life voters.

If he asks you to clap, you know what to do.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 8, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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