Prominent political figures across the spectrum on Monday criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after the billionaire seemed reluctant to distance himself from high-profile white supremacists supporting his campaign.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Trump's response "disqualifying and disgusting," adding that Trump's "coddling of repugnant bigotry is not in the character of America."
Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who now hosts the MSNBC show "Morning Joe," said Trump's wavering was "breathtaking. That is disqualifying right there."
Scarborough, who represented Florida's first congressional district from 1995 to 2001, said of Trump, "Is he really so ignorant of Southern voters that he thinks this is the way to their heart? To go neutral, to play Switzerland when you're talking about the Klan?"
Trump blamed a faulty earpiece for his failure to reject the endorsement of white supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, during his appearance Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union"
"I don't know anything about David Duke, OK?" Trump told CNN's Jake Tapper. "You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about," Trump said, adding that he would need to "do research" on white supremacist groups before disavowing them.
But as word spread of Trump's waffling on Duke and the KKK, the billionaire tweeted a video of himself answering a question about David Duke two days earlier. "David Duke endorsed me?" Trump asked a reporter who raised the subject on Friday. "I disavow, ok?"
This supposed "disavowal," however, only served to underscore how strange it was that Trump would claim not to know anything about David Duke on Sunday, two days after he had rejected Duke's endorsement.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also hammered Trump on Monday. “I know Mr. Trump says there’s more that he needs to learn about Mr. Duke before he can render an opinion," Earnest told reporters at his daily White House press conference. "I think we now know all we need to know about Mr. Trump to render our own personal opinion of his candidacy.”
As Trump on Monday sought to move from the KKK controversy, his two main rivals for the GOP nomination had a field day.
"I don't care how bad the earpiece is, Ku Klux Klan comes through pretty clearly," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said during a rally in Tennessee. Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried to stick to his so-called positive message, telling Trump over Twitter, "you're better than this."