For Floridians in particular, the latest controversy surrounding President Donald Trump and white nationalists has a familiar ring.
Trump took bipartisan heat Saturday for blaming “many sides” for deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va. But on Monday, reading a statement in the White House, the president specifically called out “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.” On Tuesday, however, Trump returned to blame-sharing, saying there was “a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”
During Tuesday’s news conference at Trump Tower in New York, Trump said he watched Saturday’s events “very closely.” But he said he was unaware that former KKK leader David Duke was at the rally and telling interviewers “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”
“I didn’t know David Duke was there,” Trump said Tuesday.
It was reminiscent of February 2016, when then-candidate Trump claimed ignorance of Duke during an interview from Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach and refused repeated invitations to denounce Duke from CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” Trump told Tapper. “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 I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”
Trump later blamed a “lousy earpiece” for the incident.
After the 2016 Duke debacle, a PAC supporting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president highlighted Trump’s Tapper interview in a 30-second ad that touted Rubio as “a better way.”
Rubio harshly criticized Trump at the time in 2016, but later supported him. Rubio has returned to the role of Trump critic over the president’s Charlottesville remarks.
“Mr. President,you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame.They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain,” Rubio said Tuesday as part of a series of tweets condemning Trump’s latest remarks.
Another former Florida rival of Trump was also sharply critical Tuesday.
“This is a time for moral clarity, not ambivalence,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush posted on Facebook. “I urge President Trump to unite the country, not parse the assignment of blame for the events in Charlottesville. For the sake of our country, he must leave no room for doubt that racism and hatred will not be tolerated or ignored by his White House.”