Democracy Dies in Darkness

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A brief history of Donald Trump addressing questions about racism and anti-Semitism

By Philip Bump

February 21, 2017 at 8:00 AM

President Trump stands during a news conference announcing Alexander Acosta as the new labor secretary nominee on Thursday in the East Room of the White House. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Update: On Monday, in response to a wave of threats issued against Jewish institutions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered a statement to the New York Times' Peter Alexander. "Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom," Spicer said. "The president has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable."

The article below, first published last week, details all of President Trump's responses to this sort of question.

From the beginning of his campaign, President Trump has been asked repeatedly to offer his thoughts on vocal support for his candidacy from white supremacists or on incidents of racial or religious harassment that have occurred. This week, for example, he was twice asked to respond to questions about anti-Semitic acts.

In each case, many observers felt his responses left something to be desired.

Below, a catalogue of each time Trump was asked to weigh in on a question of racial or religious sensitivity and his response.

Aug. 26, 2015. Endorsement by former Klansman David Duke.

"I don't need his endorsement; I certainly wouldn't want his endorsement. I don't need anyone's endorsement."

Asked if he would repudiate Duke:

"Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I don't know anything about him. Somebody told me yesterday, whoever he is, he did endorse me. Actually I don't think it was an endorsement. He said I was absolutely the best of all of the candidates."

Fifteen years earlier, Trump rejected the Reform Party's nomination for president specifically because Duke was a member. "This is not company I wish to keep," he said at the time.

Nov. 22. An assault on a Black Lives Matter protester at a Trump rally.

Trump was asked to comment on the incident on "Fox and Friends."

"I will tell you that the man that was — was I don't know you say roughed up, he was so obnoxious and so loud, he was screaming. I had 10,000 people in the room yesterday, 10,000 people, and this guy started screaming by himself and they — I don't know, rough up, he should have been — maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing."

Nov. 23. Trump on black crime.

The afternoon after that "Fox and Friends" interview, Trump retweeted a false and racially charged image about black crime.

Fox's Bill O'Reilly asked him about it.

"I'm probably the least racist person on Earth. … I didn't tweet. I retweeted somebody who was supposedly an expert and was also a radio show. … Am I going to check every statistic? I get millions and millions at @realDonaldTrump, by the way. I have millions of people. You know what? Fine. … All it was was a retweet."

Feb. 26, 2016. Duke endorsement.

Watch more!
After being endorsed by Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Friday, Feb. 26, that he disavowed former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's support. (Reuters)

"I didn't even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? Okay, all right. I disavow, okay?"

Feb. 28. Duke endorsement.

Trump was being interviewed by CNN's Jake Tapper.

"Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. Okay? 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."

Tapper asks if Trump won't unequivocally condemn support from racist groups and individuals.

"Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong."

Tapper presses him on it. The Klan? David Duke?

I don't know any — honestly, I don't know David Duke. I don't believe I have ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him. And I just don't know anything about him.

Feb. 29. The Duke endorsement and the Tapper interview.

"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. … I have no problem disavowing groups, but I'd at least like to know who they are. It would be very unfair to disavow a group if the group shouldn't be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke."

Mar. 1. Duke.

"I mean, there's nobody that's done so much for equality as I have. You take a look at Palm Beach, Florida, I built the Mar-a-Lago Club, totally open to everybody; a club that frankly set a new standard in clubs and a new standard in Palm Beach and I've gotten great credit for it. That is totally open to everybody. So, of course, I am."

May 5. Anti-Semitic attacks on a reporter.

Trump was asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about online harassment of reporter Julia Ioffe by Trump supporters after she profiled Melania Trump.

"I haven't read the article, but I heard it was a very inaccurate article, and I heard it was a nasty article. I'm married to a woman who's a very fine woman. She's a very fine woman. She doesn't need this, believe me. She was very, very successful. She did tremendously well as a top model. She made a lot of money. And — and she's a nice person. And I guess some of the article says that she would go in at night and she would stay — she wasn't a party person. She, you know, that's not her thing. But this was a very — this is a very high quality woman who loves people and has a big heart. She doesn't need to be — have bad things said about her. And I heard the article was nasty. Now, I haven't read it, but I heard the article was not what it should be."

Blitzer pressed the point. Trump replied:

"Oh, I don't know about that. I — I don't know anything about that. … I don't have a message to the fans. A woman wrote a — a article that was inaccurate. Now, I'm used to it. I get such bad articles. I get such — the press is so dishonest, Wolf, I can't even tell you. It's so dishonest. There's nothing more dishonest than the media."

July 5. Trump's tweet of an anti-Semitic image.

"Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff's Star, or plain star!"

Nov. 13. Incidents of racial violence and vandalism since the election.

Trump was speaking with CBS's Lesley Stahl, who asked him about a number of incidents that had received national media attention.

"I am very surprised to hear that — I hate to hear that, I mean I hate to hear that. I saw, I saw one or two instances, but I think it's a very small amount."

Trump was asked what he'd say to those committing the violence.

I would say don't do it, that's terrible, 'cause I'm gonna bring this country together. … I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, "Stop it." If it — if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.

Feb. 15, 2017. Increase in anti-Semitic incidents.

"Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there's no way to 270. And there's tremendous enthusiasm out there."

He continued.

"I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on, because a lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time. I think one of the reasons I won the election is because we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided, and hopefully, I'll be able to do something about that. And I — you know, it's something that was very important to me. As far as people, Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now. A son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you're going to see a lot of different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you're going to see a lot of love. You're going to see a lot of love."

Feb. 16. Anti-Semitic incidents.

Watch more!
At a joint news conference at the White House, Feb. 15, President Trump responded to a reporter's question about the "sharp rise" of anti-semitism across the United States, saying, "We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on." (Reuters)

A reporter from a Jewish publication asked about Trump's response to a recent spate of bomb threats at Jewish organizations.

"Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican — [the reporter tries to interject] quiet, quiet, quiet."

After criticizing the reporter, he continued.

"Let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I've known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it. So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.

Feb. 21. Anti-Semitic incidents.

Trump was again asked by NBC News to address anti-Semitic incidents.

"Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it's going to stop and it has to stop."

"So you're denouncing now, once and for all," NBC's Craig Melvin asked.

"Oh, of course. And I do it — wherever I get a chance, I do it."


Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Post based in New York.

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