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CNN presses Cory Booker to explain Donald Trump’s cryptic tweet

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) spoke at the Democratic National Convention on July 25. (Video: The Washington Post)
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What the heck did Donald Trump mean when he tweeted this after a speech by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) at the Democratic National Convention Monday night?

The hosts of "New Day" on CNN were wondering too, and they asked Booker to offer a theory Tuesday morning. He didn't go there. Booker initially deflected, insisting that he loves Trump and his family and saying he will not "answer his hate with hate." Pressed on what Trump supposedly "knows" about Booker, the senator said he doesn't care and that Republican presidential nominee just "wants us to be speculating."

Winners and losers from the first night of the Democratic convention

Here's the exchange with CNN's Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo:

CAMEROTA: Did you see Donald Trump's tweet after your speech?
BOOKER: I did. I did.
CAMEROTA: So, we'll put it up on the screen. Donald Trump tweeted, and said something to the effect of, "I know Cory Booker better than he knows himself" or something. "If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, then they have no future. I know more about Cory than he knows about himself."
CUOMO: What has he got on you?
BOOKER: Well, let me tell you right now. I love Donald Trump. I'm going to say that.
CAMEROTA: What?
BOOKER: I don't want to answer his hate with hate; I answer it with love. I'm not going to answer his darkness with darkness. I love him. I know his kids; I know his family. They're good — the children especially — good people. And this is the problem that he has, is that he wants — first of all, I feel lucky because he was attacking everybody else in the Senate, from John McCain to Elizabeth Warren. I was feeling left out. Now he's finally got — thank you, Donald. I finally feel like I'm important enough that you will attack and demean —
CUOMO: But when you read that and he says — what else can that mean? "I know Cory Booker better than he knows himself." What is that supposed to mean to you.
BOOKER: That's what he wants — he wants us to be speculating. Ooh, it sounds so sinister.
CUOMO: It does.
BOOKER: I don't care. I love you, Donald. I pray for you. I hope that you find some kindness in your heart that you're not going to be somebody that spews out insults to your political opposition, that you're going to start finding some ways to love. I'm going to elevate him. I love you. I just don't want you to be my president. I don't want you to have the White House to be spewing that kind of mean-spirited hate. It belongs — it doesn't even belong in a playground sandbox. The reality is, I'm sorry, I'm just going to keep loving on him. I'm going to tell the truth about him. But I'm going to keep loving on him, praying for best for him and his family. That kind of vitriol, that kind of meanness, has no place in the presidency. Bring it on, Donald. Show your truth. I'm going to show mine. Love you, brother.

Trump's Booker tweet resembled a similarly veiled message he posted during the GOP primary about Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi.

At the time, Trump's threat to "spill the beans" was widely viewed as a reference to Heidi Cruz's battle against depression.

His shot at Booker also recalled an innuendo-filled episode from the former Newark mayor's special election Senate race in 2013. Rick Shaftan, a top aide to Booker's Republican opponent, Steve Lonegan, told Talking Points Memo that Booker's response on Twitter to messages from a stripper "was like what a gay guy would say."

Here's the full quote from Shaftan — because three years later, it's still hard to believe it's a real thing that was said in politics.

It was just weird. I mean, to me, you know, hey, if he said, "Hey, you got really hot breasts. Man, I'd love to suck on them." Then like, yeah, cool. But like, he didn't say that. It was like kind of like, I don't know, it was like what a gay guy would say to a stripper. It's the way he was talking to her. It's just like like there was no sexual interest at all. I don't know. To me, if I was single and, you know, like, some stripper was tweeting me, I might take advantage of the perks of the office, you know?

Rick Shaftan: the original Donald Trump.

Anyway, Booker addressed questions about his sexual orientation in an interview with The Washington Post that year.

People who think I'm gay, some part of me thinks it's wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia. I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I'm gay, and I say, "So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I'm straight."
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