You might’ve thought after the media firestorm that engulfed Donald Trump in February when he failed to vocally denounce the endorsement of white supremacists like David Duke to CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump would’ve learned a lesson. That lesson being, of course, that presidential candidates should unequivocally denounce bigotry and hate, even when spewed by supporters.
But on Wednesday night, it happened again. This time instead of white supremacists, it was anti-Semites, and instead of Jake Tapper, it was Wolf Blitzer. Blitzer asked Trump if he had a “message” for his “fans” who had spewed a tidal wave of anti-Semitic comments at Julia Ioffe, a journalist who had written an article about Trump’s wife Melania that appeared in GQ last week.
Melania Trump was so outraged by the article that she took to Facebook to respond, attacking Ioffe personally and claiming the article contained “numerous inaccuracies.” That inspired some Trump supporters to lash out, leveling horribly anti-Semitic attacks at Ioffe, who is Jewish.
It was truly vile garbage. There was an image of Ioffe depicted as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. A cartoon of a Jewish man being shot in the head. Others called her phone and played speeches of Adolph Hitler. And the white supremacist website Daily Stormer ran an article titled, “Empress Melania Attacked by Filthy Russian Kike Julia Ioffe in GQ!” (The Daily Stormer has repeatedly attacked me for being Muslim, proving once again that bigots tend to hate both Jews and Muslims.)
The barrage of anti-Semitic attacks on Ioffe has been well documented in the media over the last week with countless articles and coverage on cable news channels. When Blitzer asked Trump about the backlash, Trump ignored the specific question and instead attacked the article. Although Trump claimed he hadn’t read the article, he still dubbed it “very inaccurate” and “nasty,” adding, “they shouldn’t be doing that with wives.” (I guess Trump already forgot his attacks on the looks of Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi).
Yet Blitzer pressed Trump, “But the anti-Semitic death threats that have followed...” Trump interrupted, “Oh, I don't know about that. I don't know anything about that. You mean fans of mine?”
Blitzer responded, “Supposed fans of posting these very angry—but your message to these fans is?”
This is the moment at which Trump should’ve clearly condemned the anti-Semitic comments. And if Trump were a true leader, he would’ve encouraged his “fans” to stop spewing such hate.
But he didn’t. Instead Trump responded: “I don’t have a message to the fans.” And then, astoundingly, he attacked Ioffe again. “A woman wrote an article that’s inaccurate.”
In Trump’s first day after effectively wrapping up the GOP nomination, he has again failed to make it clear that there’s no place for bigotry and hate on his behalf.
When Ronald Reagan was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1984, he made it clear in a letter to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that he despised the Klan and absolutely did not want its support. Reagan wrote in part, “The politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry practiced by the Klan and others have no place in this country, and are destructive of the values for which America has always stood.”
In February, when Jake Tapper asked Bernie Sanders about the supporters who had been making sexist comments online in support of his candidacy, he denounced them unequivocally. The Vermont senator told Tapper, “I have heard about it. It’s disgusting.” Not only did he pledge that his campaign would try to stop these sexist attacks, he declared, “We don’t want them. I don’t want them. That is not what this campaign is about.”
That should’ve been Trump’s response, too. Instead Trump’s comments will very likely embolden the anti-Semites who support him. And while that’s probably a small number of people, this is far from the first time they have spewed hateful remarks about Jews in defense of Trump. In December, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank penned an article titled, “Donald Trump is a bigot and a racist.” The result was a tsunami of anti-Semitic comments hurled at Milbank by Trump supporters.
In March, Bethany Mandel criticized Trump’s “legions of anti-Semitic fans.” Mandel was called a “slimy Jewess” and told that she “deserved the oven.” Trump supporters soon found her personal information and began making death threats to her Facebook account. Mandel was so concerned that she not only filed a police report, she bought a gun to protect herself from Trump’s fans.
Trump is playing a dangerous game. On one hand, Trump showed genuine responsibility on Thursday when he issued a statement condemning the recent anti-Semitic comments of Trump fan and former Klan leader David Duke who said that the “real problem” in America is “Jewish supremacists” who oppose Trump. Trump disavowed Duke, saying that, “anti-Semitism has no place our society, which needs to be united, not divided.” But that only throws Trump’s refusal to vocally and passionately denounce his anti-Semitic fans on CNN Wednesday night into starker relief.
Unless Trump makes clear that he absolutely and in no uncertain terms condemns the anti-Semites who have gone after journalists like Ioffe, Milbank, and Mandel, he will only embolden these bigots to spew more hate.
The 2016 election will come and go. But unless Trump makes it clear there’s no place for this type of bigotry in America, the hate he has unleashed may grow.