Pence fails the test on 'deplorable'

David Duke support Pence response nr_00000628
David Duke support Pence response nr_00000628

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Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: VP candidate Mike Pence declined to call white supremacist David Duke deplorable
  • Obeidallah: Pence says he's not into "name calling" but has no trouble denouncing Obama, reporters
  • Obeidallah: It's crucial for anyone who aspires to lead in America that they denounce anti-Semitism, racism

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM's radio's daily program "The Dean Obeidallah Show" and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)"The viciousness of these Jews is unbelievable.... they are the dominant and dangerous power that exists in the United States of America today." Those are the words of former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke.

We're not reaching way back here: this is from just three months ago when he lashed out at Jewish members of the media who he claimed were "absolutely zeroing in now on Donald Trump." Duke, who is publicly supporting Trump, has since declared that voting against Trump is "treason to your heritage."
    It really doesn't get too much more deplorable than that type of anti-Semitic rherotic. But when Trump's running mate was asked Monday night by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether he would call it that, Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence refused. Instead, Pence offered a weak response: "We do not want his support and we don't want the support of people who think like him."
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    When Blitzer pushed Pence on whether Duke would "fit into that category of deplorables," Pence remarked, "No," adding, "I'm not in the name-calling business..."
    Duke, who recently made robocalls urging voters to support Trump, was apparently pleased at this framing, and praised Pence: "It's good to see an individual like Pence and others start to reject this absolute controlled media." At this writing, Pence has not denounced even this new round of praise from the former Grand Wizard. (To Duke, "controlled" media is code for Jewish-run media.)
    And Pence isn't the only one on the Republican ticket dangerously giving white supremacists a sense that he wants their support. Trump has infamously retweeted white supremacists' tweets on various occasions, including one from a user with the handle "WhiteGenocideTM." In fact, in January, a study found that 62% of the accounts Trump had retweeted recently had white-supremacist connections.
    And, in February, when CNN's Jake Tapper questioned Trump about the former Klan leader's public praise for the candidate, Trump created a firestorm when he refused to denounce Duke. Instead, he remarked, "I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists."
    Trump eventually did condemn Duke, but this has not deterred Duke and other white nationalists who remain firmly on the Trump train. A recent study found that white nationalists on Twitter are "heavily invested" in Trump's campaign.
    For example, some of them, including Duke, tweeted praise for Trump's recent hard-line immigration speech. And just last week, several leading white supremacists held a press conference "to discuss their affection for Donald Trump and their hopes for a white homeland," which they note needs to be free from Jews.
    This is the backdrop against which we can assess Pence's unwillingness to denounce Duke.
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    Perhaps Pence's refusal to call Duke "names" is something that he truly believes in. Perhaps Pence -- an evangelical Christian -- is a man who won't malign others, even anti-Semites like Duke, because it clashes with his personal moral code. If this were the case, at least then we could attempt to understand Pence's hesitance to call Duke "deplorable" or any other word that would make it clear to Duke and his followers that the Republican presidential ticket rejects them unequivocally.
    But that isn't the case. Just last week Pence had no problem mocking President Barack Obama as a weak and ineffective leader.
    And last year, when Pence faced a backlash over the Indiana religious liberty law he had signed, which many argued legally sanctioned discrimination against the LGBT community, Pence had no problem lambasting the media, calling reporters, "shameless" and "reckless" in the way they were covering the issue.
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    Is David Duke not, at the very least, "shameless?" "Reckless?" Can Pence not conjure any such words of indictment and revulsion for the white supremacists who shame his ticket with their support?
    America does not need or want leaders that lower themselves to the immoral opportunism on display here.
    In this tightly contested election, is the Trump-Pence campaign worried that it can't alienate white supremacists -- even if they are racists and anti-Semites? We can't know for sure.
    What is clear, however, is that Pence should've said more Monday night than: We don't want the vote of people who think like Duke. He should've made it clear to all -- especially the white nationalist Trump supporters -- that Duke and those like him are the very definition of deplorable.
    Anything less is not only morally wrong, it brings hateful and un-American views into the mainstream -- and those may well stay with us long after this election is over.