It seems not even a quasi-endorsement from neo-Nazi and former KKK leader David Duke — who also is a convicted federal felon — can derail the Trump Train. So be it, but Donald Trump should nonetheless be embarrassed for mishandling Duke's naked attempt at riding the billionaire candidate's coattails. The obvious, and easy, thing for Trump to do last month when Duke urged his fellow bigots to "get active" in Trump's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination was simply to renounce Duke. That would not have been a new experience for Trump — he had done that several times before.
According to Politifact.com, last August Trump "repudiated" Duke's earlier support of his candidacy, saying, "I don't need his endorsement. I certainly wouldn't want his endorsement." In 2000, Trump considered seeking the Reform Party's nomination for president but ultimately shunned the idea because Duke had joined the party. At that time he called Duke "a big racist, a problem" — and days later said of him, "That is not company I wish to keep." As long ago as 1991, after Duke had lost what became known as "the runoff from hell" against Edwin Edwards in Louisiana's gubernatorial election, Trump said of Duke's white support, "I hate seeing what it represents, but I guess it just shows there's a lot of hostility in this country."
All of which makes Trump's latest "know-nothing" comments about Duke quite disturbing. For a guy who pulls no punches against serious candidates for president, Trump seemed to handle Duke with kid gloves on Feb. 28. In an interview on CNN that day, Trump said, "I don't know anything about David Duke, OK?" He repeated almost those exact words three times in that interview — even though he had thrice repudiated Duke in the past.
That's a shame, because renouncing Duke would have cost Trump nothing — certainly not compared to the criticism he has brought on himself for his ill-tempered rants on the campaign trail. Fact is, Duke's announced support was a golden opportunity for Trump to look presidential. Instead of rising to the occasion, he blew it — which kept Duke and his vile brand of politics in the headlines for several more days.
Which is exactly what Duke wanted, and that's the real shame of it. Lest anyone forget, Duke is a convicted con artist and swindler. In 2002, he admitted defrauding his own "supporters" out of money that he raised on the pretext of keeping himself out of the poor house and promoting his political agenda. He instead used the money to go gambling on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He went to federal prison for his crime, and since his release he has returned to his virulent brand of racism and anti-Semitism.
At the end of the day, Duke got what he wanted: attention — and the chance to raise more money. Trump allowed a real con artist to hitch his wagon to the Trump Train, and in doing so he failed to show the substance that his many critics continue to say he lacks.