Here’s Ted Cruz yesterday on the Hugh Hewitt show yesterday:
You know, I’ve joked that there are not many iron rules in politics. But one that you can count on 100 percent of the time is the Klan. Always. Nazis? Always bad. You’ll just, you’ll never go wrong with that rule. Either the Klan or Nazis, bad, bad, bad. And it seems somehow that Donald missed that briefing.
First of all, this is funny, and Cruz is apparently just naturally funnier than Marco Rubio, who makes pee-pants and dick jokes.
But this also gets at what was so strange about Donald Trump’s dancing around questions about David Duke, white supremacists, and the KKK. For decades in American politics, even as issues around race have festered in dog whistles and unconscious resentments, overt racism has been wildly taboo. KKK = bad is like the foundational aphorism of respectable modern politics in this country. That’s what so wild about hearing Trump defenders say that he was dealt a “gotcha” question. It wasn’t a gotcha, it was a cupcake! It is the easiest question in politics. KKK = bad!
Megyn Kelly made this same point in grilling Mike Huckabee. “It was so strange,” she said. The fact that the KKK is so obviously deplorable, she said, “that it’s such a no-brainer — is what makes his response to Jake Tapper confusing to many.”
I don’t think that Trump has a white hood in the closet. But his weird evasions on Duke and on white supremacist groups generally are genuinely disturbing. It’s so unusual that it’s hard not to read as an appeal to the uglier elements of white populism — both an effort not to offend the actual white supremacist voters in his base and also likely an appeal to voters who would never say a kind word about the KKK but are open to certain appeals to white identity politics (political correctness is the real problem with this country, etc.).
It’s worth noting that there is absolutely, positively no doubt when Trump actually wants to disavow something or someone. He does not dodge. He does not irritably wave his hand at reporters’s questions and say, “I disavow, OK?”
As Stephen F. Hayes in the Weekly Standard points out:
There is an odd disconnect between Trump’s behavior here and his behavior, well, in virtually every other context. One of the defining elements of Trump’s candidacy is his willingness – his eagerness, even – to offer condemnations of anyone he dislikes.
Erick Erickson is “a total low life.” Arianna Huffington is a “liberal clown.” Chuck Todd is “pathetic.” Charles Krauthammer is a “loser” and a “clown.” Bill Kristol is “a sad case.” Bob Vander Plaats is a “phony and a con man.” Stuart Stevens is “a dumb guy who fails #everything he touches.” Jeb Bush is a “puppet.” Ben Carson is “pathological” with a temper that’s “incurable” – “you don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester.” Marco Rubio is a “lightweight.” Ted Cruz is “the ultimate hypocrite.” Nicole Wallace is “a disaster.” Rick Wilson is “dumb as a rock.” Jonathan Martin is “dishonest.” And on it goes. (The New York Times has provided a catalogue of “The 199 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List.” The list is not, in fact, close to complete.)
Meanwhile, David Duke himself is now saying that the media is “really smearing Donald Trump unfairly.”