early and awkward

Why Mike Pence Wouldn’t Call David Duke ‘Deplorable’

Duke considers “not officially deplorable” a compliment. Photo: Brian Vander Brug/LA Times via Getty Images

Last week, Mike Pence broke with his running mate Donald Trump by rejecting birtherism and promising to release his tax returns, and now America’s least helpful vice-presidential candidate is at it again. On Monday evening, the Indiana governor provided a distraction from the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia when he refused to call David Duke, who is perhaps America’s most famous white supremacist, “deplorable.”

In a CNN interview, Wolf Blitzer raised the issue of Clinton declaring “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’” The Democratic presidential candidate has said she regrets saying that “half” of her opponent’s supporters are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it,” but Blitzer noted that description certainly fits a percentage of Trump backers. “There are some supporters of Donald Trump and Mike Pence who, like David Duke for example and some other white nationalists, who would fit into that category of ‘deplorables,’” Blitzer said.

“I’m not really sure why the media keeps dropping David Duke’s name,” Pence responded. “Donald Trump has denounced David Duke repeatedly. We don’t want his support, and we don’t want the support of people who think like him.” So Pence would characterize Duke as deplorable, or “deserving censure or contempt,” right? “No, I’m not in the name-calling business, Wolf, you know me better than that,” Pence said.

He went on to make the awkward, almost politically correct argument that people should be deeply offended by Clinton using the same terms as the national media — and even some Republicans — to describe Trump supporters:

What Hillary Clinton did on Friday night was shocking. I mean, the millions of people who support Donald Trump around this country are not a basket of anything. They are Americans. And they deserve the respect of the Democrat nominee for president of the United States. For her to rattle off this litany of pejoratives was just really shocking, and anyone with that low of an opinion of the American people should never hold the highest office in this land.

Blitzer wondered if that means Pence thinks his running mate should apologize to the millions of Americans he’s offended in the past year, including Mexican-Americans, Muslims, a Gold Star family, and war hero John McCain. Pence scoffed at this idea, saying that while Clinton supporters want to “draw some moral equivalency to early parts in the debate,” Trump’s outrageous attacks are entirely different because they were spontaneous. There’s a big difference between things Trump said, repeatedly, “in the heat of the moment,” and a line Clinton used in “a prepared speech in front of wealthy donors.”

Plus, some of Trump’s insults have passed the statute of limitations. When asked if Trump should apologize for birtherism, Pence said, “We’re just not talking about that issue. It’s a four-year-old issue.”

Unfortunately for Pence, when some of the people supporting your campaign are objectively awful, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If he’d used Clinton’s term to describe Duke, then he’d be proving her original statement was correct. He chose the other option, so Clinton called him out for standing with bigots:

Pence then accused the media of taking his remarks out of context, and tweeted out a Fox News interview in which he made the exact same point: The Trump team has denounced Duke repeatedly, but Pence won’t call him “deplorable” because “I’m not a name-caller, I don’t play that game.”

One person still missing the essential point that Pence thinks the former Klu Klux Klan leader is deplorable, but won’t use that word: David Duke. He called Clinton a hypocrite for embracing late senator Robert Byrd, who was praised upon his death by the NAACP for his path from KKK member to an active supporter of civil-rights legislation.

Duke has left the KKK as well, but he’s still a member of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, a white-supremacist group.

He’s also a Holocaust denier and foe of the “Jewish elite.”

Duke, who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, went on to praise “Pense” for fighting the media’s attempt to label him “deplorable” in a statement to BuzzFeed.

It’s good to see an individual like Pence and others start to reject this absolute controlled media … The truth is that the Republican Party in Louisiana — I received the vast majority of Republican votes for United States senator before and for governor before that in my state. The truth is the Republican Party is big tent. I served in the Republican caucus. I was in the Republican caucus in the legislature. I had a perfect Republican voting record. It’s ridiculous that they attack me because of my involvement in that nonviolent Klan four decades ago.

So don’t listen to the Louisiana GOP when they call Duke “a convicted felon and a hate-filled fraud who does not embody the values of the Republican Party.” As he explains, the Republican Party has plenty of room for anti-Semitic white nationalists like himself. Who knows, the party of Trump may even boast millions of these deplorables.

Why Mike Pence Wouldn’t Call David Duke ‘Deplorable’