It's hard to remember now but there was once a time in the not too distant past when presidential and vice presidential candidates of both parties did not hesitate to denounce a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Generally, when asked about the Klan even conservative dog whistlers were careful to distance themselves from the violent racists.
A century ago, politicians openly backed the Klan of course. In the early 1920s, candidates of both parties were endorsed by the KKK in a number of states around the country. In 1924, the Democratic convention was held in New York City and popularly called the "Klanbake" This was because the frontrunner, William McAdoo, the Klan's chosen candidate, was challenged by New York Gov. Al Smith, a Catholic running on an anti-Klan platform. (In those days, the Klan hated Catholics just as much as they hated blacks and Jews.)
It took 103 ballots to beat McAdoo and the floor fight was legendary. One of the more memorable moments of the convention was when 20,000 Klansmen gathered in New Jersey to burn crosses and hang effigies of Smith. (It may even be the case that Donald Trump's father Fred was among them. He was a Klansman living in New York at the time and was arrested at a violent Klan rally in 1927 so it's certainly possible.)
Sen. Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats in the late 1940s were certainly sympatico with the Klan and while Alabama Gov. George Wallace distanced himself he benefited from their support in his run for president in 1968. They had always been brutal and violent but that period ended whatever was left of public tolerance for the group.
Today the most mainstream politician to be associated with the Klan is Trump adviser Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions whose bid for a federal judgeship was rejected by the Senate for saying he thought "the Klan was O.K. until I learned they smoked pot.” Obviously, the good people of Alabama didn't see that as a deal breaker.
So we have not seen a candidate inspire the Klan the way Trump inspires them in many a year. Indeed, he's inspiring white supremacist groups of all kinds and is actually creating new ones. There is ample documentation to support this starting with the fact that white supremacist groups ran robo-calls for Trump throughout the GOP primaries and the Trump campaign certified a number of white supremacists as official delegates to the Republican convention. Former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, endorsed him enthusiastically and is so inspired he's running for office again himself. And as everyone knows Trump named Steve Bannon, a card carrying member of the white nationalist alt-right as his campaign CEO.
These are the people Hillary Clinton said were in a "basket of deplorables." And yes, she said that half of Trump's voters fit the description although she later clarified that "half" was an exaggeration. But if what we're talking about are people with deplorable racist views it really wasn't.
This piece by Jamelle Bouie in Slate spells out the deplorable reality:
"Half” wasn’t a gross generalization at all. “Half” was by all indications close to the truth...
Perhaps the best data on questions of race and Trump comes from political scientist Jason McDaniel of San Francisco State University and Sean McElwee, a research associate at Demos, a left-leaning think tank. Using the 2016 pilot of the American National Election Study, conducted in January, they drill down on racial attitudes among Trump supporters. Given what we already know, their results shouldn’t come as a shock. More than 40 percent of all Republicans and more than 60 percent of Trump supporters say that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Compared with those who backed other candidates in the GOP primary, Trump supporters have cooler feelings toward blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and LGBTQ Americans, and warmer feelings toward whites. By sizable margins, according to McElwee’s analysis of ANES, Trump supporters are more likely than non-Trump supporters to believe that blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims are lazier and more violent than whites. More than 60 percent of Trump supporters believe black people are more violent than whites; nearly 50 percent of non-Trump Republicans say this. More than 70 percent of Trump supporters believe Muslim people are more violent than whites; roughly 60 percent of non-Trump Republicans say this. These are deplorable views, and they represent the consensus opinion not just of Trump supporters but of all Republicans in the survey. If the study is at all reflective of the population at large on this score, we’re going to need a bigger basket.
No, the Trump voters who hold those views are not all members of the KKK. But like those Dixiecrats of yore they seem to be pretty comfortable in their company. Add in the cretinous yahoos who scream"Lock her up!" and "Trump that bitch" and wear T-shirts that say "Hillary sucks but not like Monica" and deplorable starts to sound like too mild a term.
That's why it was so disconcerting to see Mike Pence, the allegedly normal Republican on the GOP ticket refuse to say if he thinks David Duke is deplorable. I think everyone assumed Pence, being a standard issue conservative movement politician was in the other basket. Sure, he's a hard- core right-wing conservative with antediluvian views about abortion and LGBT rights but he is also someone who stood up to Donald Trump before he joined the ticket saying "I think comments that suggest that Muslims should be banned from the United States are offensive and unconstitutional."
But when Wolf Blitzer asked him, he said that he didn't want Duke's vote but he did refuse to say Duke is deplorable, instead fatuously insisting, "I'm not in the name-calling business." But he most certainly is. He may not personally be a name-caller but his business is running for office with a man who calls Clinton "Crooked Hillary" and just yesterday, after demanding Clinton apologize for the deplorables comment, went out and called Senator Warren "Pocahontas" again.
David Duke appreciated Pence's refusal to call him deplorable and helpfully explained that, "the truth is the Republican Party is big tent. I served in the Republican caucus. I was in the Republican caucus in the legislature."
Then he tweeted this:
Wolf Blitzer demands that Pense call me "Deplorable" and he refuses.. Wolfie boy, still upset that I outed you on CNN as an AIPAC AGENT?
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) September 13, 2016
FIGHT for the Black & Mexican interests & you are NEVER DEPLORABLE, but DARE DEFEND THE HERITAGE OF wHITE PEOPLE- U R SO, SO, SO DEPLORABLE!
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) September 13, 2016
He was right about one thing. The Republican party is a big tent. And it's half full of deplorables, some of whom are like David Duke. The other half ought to do something about that.