A Republican candidate for President was asked about the controversial and bigoted views of one of his supporters. Rather than immediately condemning the supporter's views, he claimed that he didn't know the context of that person's remarks.
You might think we are talking about Donald Trump and David Duke. But we're not. This is about an exchange on Monday night between Ted Cruz and CNN's Wolf Blitzer over one of Cruz's national security advisers, Frank Gaffney.
Cruz announced that Gaffney would be joining his national security team last week, a pick that immediately drew criticism. Here are just a few of the controversial things Gaffney has done and said:
- He claimed that Grover Norquist, one of the right wing's most reliable anti-tax figures, was secretly aiding the Muslim Brotherhood because his wife is Palestinian-American;
- He said that Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey could be guilty of "misprision of treason" for appointing a Muslim lawyer to a judgeship;
- He claimed that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government played a role in the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, which was proven to have been carried out by right wing militant Timothy McVeigh;
- And he called President Obama the first Muslim president.
Blitzer directly asked Cruz about Gaffney's comments about President Obama. Cruz responded that he didn't "know what [Gaffney] said in 2009" and that he "didn't have the full context."
Compare that to Donald Trump's statement about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. When asked about Duke's endorsement, Trump said he didn't know anything about white supremacists.
This event offers two major lessons; first, politicians of both parties are still able to "pass the buck" for the opinions of those advising them. Hillary Clinton has done it as well, when asked about the advice she has taken from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The second lesson is slightly more troubling: anti-Muslim bigotry has worked its way into the mainstream of the Republican Party and, so far, the party has faced virtually no blowback for it. Trump got a lot of headlines when he called for banning the entry of Muslims to the the United States, but other candidates have suggested things on par. On Tuesday, following the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Cruz called for police to actively patrol Muslim neighborhoods as a way to stem further attacks. And before he dropped out of the race, Marco Rubio said that the U.S. should shut down mosques or any other place "where radicals are being inspired."
A 2014 poll from Pew Research showed that, on average, Republican voters rated their feelings towards Muslims as 33/100, the most unfavorable rating of any religious group. Democrats averaged a 47/100.
The media can accuse Trump of bigotry all they want. But focusing almost exclusively on him, though, offers cover to other anti-Muslim politicians to hire the Frank Gaffneys of the world without much consequence.