By Robert Romano
“When Donald opened his club in Palm Beach called Mar-a-Lago, he insisted on accepting Jews and blacks even though other clubs in Palm Beach to this day discriminate against blacks and Jews. The old guard in Palm Beach was outraged that Donald would accept blacks and Jews so that’s the real Donald Trump that I know.”
That was author Ronald Kessler in a July 2015 interview with Newsmax, talking about Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s business practices when it came to building a golf course in the Deep South.
In the 1990s, Trump was running into a problem getting his golf course approved by the local town council in Palm Beach, which was imposing restrictions on his bid.
So Trump shot back with maximum effect. As reported by the Washington Post’s Mary Jordan and Rosalind Helderman on Nov. 14, 2015: “Trump undercut his adversaries with a searing attack, claiming that local officials seemed to accept the established private clubs in town that had excluded Jews and blacks while imposing tough rules on his inclusive one.”
The Washington Post report continues, “Trump’s lawyer sent every member of the town council copies of two classic movies about discrimination: ‘A Gentleman’s Agreement,’ about a journalist who pretends to be Jewish to expose anti-Semitism, and ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ about a white couple’s reaction to their daughter bringing home a black fiancé.”
Sometimes, in judging the character of an individual, it pays to see what people actually do when nobody’s really paying attention. When it came to segregation in the South at private, all-white country clubs, it might have been in Trump’s business interests to simply look the other way. Instead, Trump did the right thing and insisted on desegregation at his golf resort.
And he won.
Soon thereafter, the local restrictions were lifted and, today, the golf course is open and remains inclusive.
It remains a point of pride for Trump, who boasted about the golf resort in a 2015 interview, “Whether they love me or not, everyone agrees the greatest and most important place in Palm Beach is Mar-a-Lago. I took this ultimate place and made it incredible and opened it, essentially, to the people of Palm Beach. The fact that I owned it made it a lot easier to get along with the Palm Beach establishment.”
At the time in 1997, then-Anti-Defamation League President Abraham Foxman praised Trump for elevating the issue of discrimination at private clubs, telling the Wall Street Journal, “He put the light on Palm Beach. Not on the beauty and the glitter, but on its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.” Foxman credited Trump’s move with encouraging other clubs in Palm Beach to do the same as Mar-a-Lago in opening up.
That’s the real Donald Trump. The one who dealt with a real problem to do with discrimination on race and religion in Palm Beach long before he was ever seeking public office by confronting a local planning board over its exclusive policies, determined he would do things differently.
So, when the question of David Duke’s endorsement of Trump came up on Friday, Feb. 26 at the Chris Christie endorsement press conference in Texas — the first time it came up — Trump’s first gut reaction was to emphatically disavow it.
“I didn’t even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? All right, I disavow, OK,” he said at the press conference. And he immediately moved on.
That might have been the end of the story right there, but Trump stumbled when the question came up again Sunday morning on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, where he distanced himself from the Duke endorsement.
“I don’t know anything about David Duke,” Trump said, adding, “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. I know nothing about white supremacists… You’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.”
Probably not altogether the best response. But for his statement a day prior, it might have even raised significant questions otherwise. Still, it was a damaging exchange for Trump and melted the Internet for a few days. Other presidential candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have since included it in their attacks on Trump.
A day later Trump recovered on NBC’s “Today Show” when it came up again, specifically on the Tapper interview, Trump said, “I disavowed David Duke a day before at a major press conference, and I’m saying to myself, how many times do I have to continue to disavow people?” Perhaps he just didn’t want to keep talking about it. Who would?
Trump also claimed his ear piece was not working really well: “I’m sitting in a house in Florida with a very bad ear piece that they gave me and you can hardly hear what he was saying.”
Trump added, “I disavowed David Duke. Now, if you look on Facebook right after that, I also disavowed David Duke. When we looked at it — looked at the question, I disavowed David Duke. So, I disavowed David Duke all weekend long on Facebook, on Twitter and, obviously it’s never enough. Ridiculous.”
It’s a fair point. Trump immediately disavowed David Duke, whose endorsement he didn’t even want in the first place.
Did he ever endorse Duke? No. Did he ever endorse the Ku Klux Klan? No. He did the opposite.
By the time the Tapper interview occurred, it is fair to say Trump was ready to move on. Tapper apparently was not.
Still, compare Trump’s statements — and his business record in Palm Beach as a prime example — to what is being said about Trump right now. “Donald Trump stumbles on David Duke, KKK,” reads the CNN headline. “Trump disavows David Duke endorsement after ducking question earlier,” reads another. It’s night and day. You’d think he had donned a white sheet and was burning crosses.
Incidentally, a similar thing famously happened in 1984 to Ronald Reagan when the Ku Klux Klan endorsed him. The difference is Reagan squished it once and for all. Reagan said at the time, “Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse.”
Was Trump as eloquent in his denunciation? Not by a long shot. But, so what? At the time, despite Reagan spurning the endorsement, there was a similar media uproar. And at the end of the day, it meant nothing and had exactly zero impact on the election. Because it was silly. Similarly, Trump went on to have a great Super Tuesday despite the hullabaloo, winning 7 out of 11 contests.
All that happened here was an ugly chapter of American history that includes white supremacy once again reared its head into U.S. politics — and was aimed viciously at Republicans even with the GOP’s clear record against slavery and segregation. The response both from mainstream media outlets and the punditry has become a predictable din and a meme unto itself of typical race card politics that attempts to portray Republicans as racists.
And it is all patently absurd.
So, move on. Based on the Palm Beach experience, Trump, unlike many others who never had to confront segregation, actually has a solid record on this issue. The attacks are unfair. And he didn’t refuse to denounce anybody, in spite of what was reported. He immediately and rightly disavowed the Duke endorsement, but as Trump noted, it’s never enough.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.