"I don't think people have fully recognized the degree to which he's transformed the party," said Richard Spencer, a clean-cut 38-year-old from Arlington, Virginia, who sipped Manhattans as he matter-of-factly called for removing African-Americans, Hispanics and Jews from the United States. Like most in his group, Spencer said this year's convention was his first. On his social media accounts, he posted pictures of himself wearing a red Trump "Make America Great Again" hat at Quicken Loans Arena. And he says he hopes to attend future GOP conventions. "Tons of people in the alt-right are here," he said, putting their numbers at the RNC this week in the dozens. "We feel an investment in the Trump campaign."
Former KKK leader David Duke launched a U.S. Senate campaign on Friday, and in his announcement remarks, the Louisianan felt compelled to give a certain presidential hopeful a spirited shout-out. "I'm overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embraced most of the issues that I have championed for years," Duke said.
It's part of an increasingly difficult dynamic for the Republican Party, most of which was quick to denounce Duke's Senate bid. As the campaign season has progressed, Trump's candidacy became a source of inspiration for bigots on the right-wing fringe, as the Associated Press reported over the weekend.
Note, the "we" in that sentence refers to white supremacists.
I'll confess my first instinct when it comes to covering extremists like these is to deny their madness any kind of spotlight, but in 2016, that no longer seems like a responsible course. These organized racists have been inspired by a Republican presidential candidate -- who, himself, has been described as a racist on multiple occasions -- in ways the American mainstream simply hasn't seen in modern times.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but if white supremacists are feeling legitimized by a competitive, major-party presidential candidate, that's a development voters should take very seriously.
In isolation, various incidents may seem easy to overlook, but collectively, an ugly series warrants attention. It's not just Trump's own racist rhetoric that raises concern; it's also the white supremacists who were elected as Republican delegates (who were later forced out by party officials); the racist social-media accounts whose messages were promoted at the Republican convention (they were later dismissed as an accident); and even Republican convention speakers who, as recently as the weekend, endorsed anti-Semitic comments (this, too, was later described as an accident).
As for Duke's candidacy, NBC's Chuck Todd asked Trump on "Meet the Press" yesterday, "Would you support a Democrat over David Duke if that was what was necessary to defeat him?"
Trump replied, "I guess, depending on who the Democrat is, but the answer would be yes."
In February, Trump hedged when asked about the KKK and Duke.