NEW YORK — On the way to interview Donald Trump at his office, I asked my taxi driver what he thought about the presidential candidates. He said he was leaning toward Trump, but he’d been hearing that Trump was a racist, and if that were true, that would stop him from casting a ballot for the man.
I asked what Trump could do to prove to the cabbie that he wasn’t a racist. After a long pause, the driver, said, “I don’t know. Maybe show some love.”
When I sat down with Trump, I told him this story and asked what he might do to dispel the perception that his comments about a Mexican American federal judge, about Mexicans generally, and about Muslims indicated racist attitudes.
This was Trump’s response:
“Well, I am not a racist, in fact, I am the least racist person that you’ve ever encountered. I’ll give you an example. It’s funny, I just got this, it was just sent to me by Don King. Now, Don knows more about race than anybody. He owns this newspaper, you know — Don’s made a lot of money. He just sent this to me, look at this.”
He handed me a copy of the latest edition of the Call & Post, a black weekly based in Cleveland that King owns. On the back of the paper was a full-page announcement endorsing Trump for president and Bernie Sanders for vice president.
“Isn’t that funny?” Trump continued. “You know, Don endorsed me. You wanna take that back with you? You know, this could be a story, it just came out. He just delivered it to my office. But isn’t that funny? This is Don King. Now, Don King knows racism probably better than anybody. He’s not endorsing a racist, okay? Do you want to use it? You can have the story, it just came out. I just got it 10 minutes ago, I don’t know. Whatever.”
I tried again: “Are you concerned that people might have this impression of you?”
“I’m not concerned,” Trump said. “And actually, I’m not concerned because I don’t think people believe it. And it’s just something that — who was this taxicab, was he African American?”
No, I said, the man said he had immigrated from Pakistan.
“I see,” Trump said. “Well, I don’t believe that people believe it. And it’s something that has never been — you know, only in a political campaign would people say things like that. But Bill Clinton was called a racist by Obama. Okay? And I don’t believe he’s a racist, but he was called a racist by Obama, and very loudly and very strongly. And to this day, Clinton, he is haunted by that, he hated that. And I do too, but I don’t think people believe Clinton is a racist. I don’t think they believe that I’m a racist.”
In the controversy Trump was describing, then-Sen. Barack Obama did not call former president Bill Clinton a racist. During the 2008 Democratic primaries, aides to Obama, who was running against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, criticized Bill Clinton for dismissing Obama’s popularity as a “fairy tale.”