In an interview Sunday morning, GOP front-runner Donald Trump would not condemn former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke's support for his presidential campaign, telling CNN host Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" that he has no knowledge of the white supremacist leader. "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, did he endorse me or what's going on," Trump said.
It was just a few days ago that Donald Trump, pressed to respond to support from former KKK leader David Duke, told reporters, "I didn't even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? I disavow, OK?"
Yesterday, however, Trump was asked again about support from overt racists, and this time, the Republican presidential candidate's line grew murky.
Asked about his willingness to condemn white supremacists, Trump was hardly unequivocal. "Well, I have to look at the group," he told Jake Tapper. "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 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. 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'll let you know."
Not surprisingly, the exchange prompted yet another round of "Will this sink Trump's campaign?" speculation, and it wasn't long before the GOP candidate's rivals were publicly criticizing Trump's apparent reluctance to denounce his white-supremacist allies.
In a year like this one, guessing how conservative voters might respond to various developments is increasingly difficult. That said, it's important to understand the degree to which the Republican Party is in an exceedingly awkward position.
At a Virginia event yesterday, for example, Marco Rubio was eager to denounce Trump's latest racially charged controversy. And who was introducing Rubio on the campaign trail yesterday? That would be none other than Virginia's former governor and senator, George Allen (R), whose career was cut short in the wake of his own racially charged controversy.
What's more, while Trump evidently no longer knows what to say about David Duke, let's also not forget that Louisiana's Steve Scalise spoke at an event for white supremacists several years ago and described himself as "David Duke without the baggage." House Republicans nevertheless made Steve Scalise the House Majority Whip -- the #3 position in the House GOP leadership -- and largely failed to even criticize him after the public learned about Scalise's past.
More to the point, Trump's most notable contribution to the political discourse -- before his racially charged rhetoric as a presidential candidate -- was his leadership role in the "birther" conspiracy theory, which, at its core, was racist nonsense. Republican leaders not only failed to denounce Trump's ridiculous crusade, they also publicly welcomed his support and endorsements, Trump's "birtherism" notwithstanding.
With this in mind, isn't it a little late for GOP officials and candidates to wring their hands and claim the high ground? Had Republicans been consistent all along -- removing Scalise from his leadership post, denouncing the "birther" garbage from the outset, etc. -- the party would likely be in a more credible position now, but that point passed long ago.
Postscript: On a related note, Rachel has an incredibly well-timed piece in the Washington Post that you're going to want to check out: What does it say about the GOP that Trump is the white supremacists’ candidate?"