The late senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). (Bob Bird/Associated Press)
Opinion writer

Republicans of all stripes were right to clobber Donald Trump for his failure to disavow support from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. But some Trump supporters are so desperate to somehow prove that Democrats also harbor racists that they are dredging up the name of the late senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.)

Nice try. And a pathetic one at that.

Yes, Byrd was a member of the Klan. Even worse, as he wrote in his 2005 book, he formed a chapter of the domestic terrorist organization in the 1940s. Then, Byrd went into politics. Several times during his 57 years in Congress, Byrd’s Klan connection threatened to upend his career. But here is where Byrd is no Duke. He admitted his mistake and atoned for it in public and in policy.

In his memoir, Byrd wrote, “It has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation.”

This and other words of contrition made it a no-brainer for Democrats like presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton to openly mourn the man who had been the longest-serving member of Congress when he died in June 2010. “Robert C. Byrd led by the power of his example,” then-Secretary of State Clinton said.

Because of Byrd’s evolution on race and equality, the NAACP issued a statement praising him at the time of his death. “Senator Byrd came to consistently support the NAACP civil rights agenda, doing well on the NAACP Annual Civil Rights Report Card,” said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “He stood with us on many issues of crucial importance to our members from the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, the historic health care legislation of 2010 and his support for the Hate Crimes Prevention legislation.”


David Duke speaks to supporters at a reception in 2004 in Louisiana. (Burt Steel/Associated Press)

Duke is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the most recognizable figure of the American radical right, a neo-Nazi, longtime Klan leader and now international spokesman for Holocaust denial.” That’s present tense, folks. And even Duke peddled the false equivalency between him and Byrd in a 17-minute video on his website. “If it is legitimate to talk about my Klan background,” Duke said, decrying what he called hypocrisy in the media, “then you better start talking about Mr. Byrd.”

In an interview with The Post about his book, Byrd said, “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.” If you watched even a minute of that Duke video, you know the far-right extremist has no intention and is incapable of following Byrd’s example.

Trump’s failure to denounce Duke, the Klan and the white supremacy they still believe in is a black eye for the Republican Party, an insult to the American people and an affront to our democracy.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj