clock menu more-arrow no yes

Donald Trump backs down from KKK remarks with nonsensical explanation

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Donald Trump said Monday he didn't disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke during a CNN interview because of a "lousy earpiece" — an answer that doesn't make much sense.

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Trump declined to condemn the support of Duke and other white supremacists. He referenced Duke specifically by name.

Here's what Trump told CNN's Jake Tapper:

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.

After the interview, Trump wrote on Twitter that he did in fact disavow Duke. Appearing on NBC's Today show on Monday, he again reiterated his disavowal of Duke's endorsement — this time by blaming CNN for his initial comments:

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. 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.

Trump backs down from controversial Duke remarks

It's worth pointing out that Trump's defense doesn't make any sense.

It'd be one thing for Trump to say that he didn't want to disavow a group he hadn't heard of, and that he couldn't make out the name Tapper cited during the interview.

But that's not what happened. If you look at the transcript from his comments on CNN, Trump clearly heard the subject matter at hand — "I don't know David Duke … I just don't know anything about him" — in a way that makes the "earpiece" defense transparently false.

And clearly Trump knows David Duke. Back in August, Trump said he didn't want his endorsement.

Does this hurt Trump? Does anything?

Perhaps Trump will remain unscathed from this controversy as he has from so many others through a combination of blaming the media for hyping up the controversy and criticizing the political correctness of liberals.

But there's also reason to believe that this time is a little different.

On Sunday, Vox's Matt Yglesias suggested that — unlike some of Trump's previous outrageous statements — this one would be jointly condemned by the conservative, mainstream, and liberal news outlets in a way that would be tough to escape.

Trump's decision to back down from the remark on Monday seems to confirm that theory. Unlike his remarks about Megyn Kelly or Muslims or Mexicans, Trump is beating a full retreat from his initial comments.

Trump has demonstrated his keen political instincts over the course of the campaign: If he believes the Duke dog whistle went too far for voters, he's probably right.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly called David Duke a current KKK leader. He is in fact a former member of the organization.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.