TAPPER: I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League, which this week called on you to publicly condemn unequivocally the racism of former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who recently said that voting against you at this point would be treason to your heritage. Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?That's some strong language. Trump might want to distance himself from these people, but Tapper is asking him to condemn an individual and to reject the votes of a vague set of persons. That's hard to do, but a politician is normally expected to step right up and do it, lest he give his antagonists any raw material to use to depict him as a racist. Of course, Trump is already used to people depicting him as a racist, and he already knows he can withstand their attack and even get benefit from it. And here's Super Tuesday coming up, with all those southern states. Who knows how many voters he's being asked to tell not to vote for him? Maybe Trump actively wants to signal to these people that he's their guy, and maybe he wants to signal to a much broader group that some slick media character isn't going to lure him back toward that place known as political correctness.
TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. OK? 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.That's 7 times he said I don't know. There's something weird about that. Why not say it once, twice, or even 3 times and then stop? He could have said: You're asking me to condemn a particular individual and I don't know him. I don't know what he said. I don't condemn people without knowing the details. That's not fair. I'm a very fair guy. Something more like that. Saying I don't know 7 times is going to make us start thinking — maybe around the 5th or 6th time — that you do know, you're denying, and you even want us to know that you know.
TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don't know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and you don't want their support?Tapper sticks to his question form. He wants Trump to condemn people (not just distance himself from them) and to say he doesn't want votes from a whole, large, undefined group. That makes it hard to say "yes" to Tapper's question, but a good communicator knows how to ignore the verbatim question and frame an answer to say exactly what he wants. That's what Trump does:
TRUMP: 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 is hot for the kill:
TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?Suddenly, for the first time, he's naming a group that you can't say you don't know. Only an ignoramus doesn't know the Ku Klux Klan, and it seems obvious that anyone with any pretense to the American mainstream would want to make sure the KKK name doesn't get stuck on him. Does Trump spring into self-protection mode? He keeps calm:
TRUMP: But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So, give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.He's steadfast in his position that fairness demands more detail, and — to be more cynical — gives the subject a push to float it past Super Tuesday — after all the Southern voters — who knows their precise affiliations? — have cast their votes.
TAPPER: OK. I mean, I'm just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but...Tapper strives for the sound bite... or maybe he's genuinely perplexed that Trump won't react in the self-protective mode that normally works in interviews like this. Trump has one more line before Tapper gives up and goes on to the cooler topic of who'd be Trump's veep.
TRUMP: 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.And that's how it peters out on camera. But the media have picked it up and are playing it for what it's worth today, the day before the big primaries. And for all I know, that's what Trump wants, the media virally spreading his message to disaffected white people: Unlike everyone else, Trump won't shun you.
ADDED: Scott Adams — who's devoted months to explaining Trump's genius — reacted very strongly to this interview and posted yesterday to say "I disavow Trump." Disavow, eh? Or does he condemn?
Later — I don't know quite when — he added 2 updates.
First, he said what he was doing was "getting out of the splatter zone." What's splattering is racism, and Adams wants Trump to deal with it on his own, not with the help of any more of Adams's explanations of how it's all genius.
Second, he kind of needed to disavow the disavowing:
In the 2D world of reason it makes no sense to disavow someone I never avowed in the first place for not disavowing someone else when in fact the person I disavowed did disavow that other person.Ha ha. But, see, Adams is beyond that, beyond the 2D world where it doesn't make sense. That's why there's something to disavow. Unsaid things are very real in his dimension — the dimension where Trump's speech operates and that Adams has seen and explained — and therefore must be unsaid. His explanations have created the feeling of an endorsement and he needs to break you of that feeling.
AND: Trump is blaming the "lousy earpiece." That may sound feeble, but let me tell you. When I was watching the show on my own yesterday, before any of this story went big, I was saying to Meade, "I think there's something wrong with the earpiece," and: "You know they could really screw with him by messing up the sound." Here's what Trump is saying today:
"I'm sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad earpiece that they gave me, and you could hardly hear what he was saying. But 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, which is surprising because he was at the major news conference, CNN was at the major news conference, and they heard me very easily disavow David Duke.... Now, I go, and I sit down again, I have a lousy earpiece that is provided by them, and frankly, he talked about groups.... He also talked about groups. And I have no problem with disavowing groups, but I'd at least like to know who they are. It would be very unfair to disavow a group, Matt, if the group shouldn't be disavowed. I have to know who the groups are. But I disavowed David Duke.... Now, if you look on Facebook, right after that, I also disavowed David Duke. When we looked at it, and looked at the question, I disavowed David Duke. So I disavowed David Duke all weekend long, on Facebook, on Twitter and obviously, it’s never enough. Ridiculous."