Less than two weeks after Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump played dumb about David Duke and the KKK, he’s using a similar tactic to explain away criticism of a controversial new loyalty pledge he’s incorporated into his campaign events.
During three recent rallies, Trump has asked supporters to raise their right hands and recite a pledge that no matter what, they’ll vote for him for president. Here’s how that unfolded during an event in Florida:
The Trump loyalty pledge drew criticism from former Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who was born in Poland and saved from the Nazis by his Catholic nanny.
“As a Jew who survived the Holocaust, to see an audience of thousands of people raising their hands in what looks like the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute is about as offensive, obnoxious and disgusting as anything I thought I would ever witness in the United States of America,” Foxman told The Times of Israel. “We’ve seen this sort of thing at rallies of neo-Nazis. We’ve seen it at rallies of white supremacists. But to see it at a rally for a legitimate candidate for the presidency of the United States is outrageous.”
Donald Trump makes members of his Orlando crowd raise their right hands and swear to vote in the primary. pic.twitter.com/EVenRilJrV
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 5, 2016
But during a Tuesday phone interview on NBC’s Today, Trump said he didn’t realize his pledge might be offensive until that very phone call and called criticism of it “ridiculous.”
“Honestly, until this phone call, I didn’t know it was a problem,” he said. “Almost everybody in the room raises their hand, we’re having a good time. I never knew it was a problem.”
Host Matt Lauer then pressed Trump on the connection between his pledge and some of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric he’s used throughout his campaign.
“I think [the controversy] is also in combination, Mr. Trump, with some of the rhetoric you’ve used on the campaign trail over the past several months targeting groups like Muslims and Mexicans, that that invokes images of Nazi Germany and the scapegoating of Jews there back in the 1930s and ’40s,” Lauer said.
Trump responded by saying he views the effort to make a connection between his events and Nazi rallies as a “big, big stretch.”
“We’re having these incredible rallies, and considering the subject matter is not so good because our country is in trouble, big trouble, we are having a great time,” he said.
But Trump added he’s open to possibly dropping the pledge from his rallies, citing his desire not to offend.
“Well I’ll certainly look into it,” he said. “I don’t want to offend anybody.”
Foxman, however, doesn’t buy the notion that Trump doesn’t understand the underlying imagery.
“It is a fascist gesture,” he told the Times of Israel. “He is smart enough — he always tells us how smart he is — to know the images that this evokes. Instead of asking his audience to pledge allegiance to the United States of America, which in itself would be a little bizarre, he’s asking them to swear allegiance to him.”