Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Sunday found himself at the center of attacks about a possible connection to the Ku Klux Klan and being accused of not outright rejecting support from the group or ex-leader David Duke.
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, of Cuban descent, suggested on “Fox News Sunday” that a hate group supporting the front-running Trump was making recorded calls – known as “robo-calls” — telling potential voters not to pick a Cuban candidate.
And Trump was repeatedly asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” about retired KKK grand wizard David Duke last week giving his support to the Trump campaign.
“Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK?” Trump responded. “I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. Did he endorse me, or what’s going on?”
Trump was asked the question Friday on the campaign trail in Fort Worth, Texas. He said he was unaware about a Duke endorsement.
“I didn’t even know,” Trump told a reporter. “I disavow it. OK?”
He tweeted a similar response after the CNN appearance, saying, “As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke — I disavow.”
Cruz tweeted: “Really sad. @realDonaldTrump you’re better than this. We should all agree, racism is wrong, KKK is abhorrent.”
Fellow GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio later commented on the CNN exchange, during a campaign event in northern Virginia.
The Florida senator said Trump “refused” to repudiate Duke — “a well known white supremacist racist” — despite being asked repeatedly.
“We cannot be a party that nominates someone who refuses to condemn white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan,” Rubio said. “Not only is that wrong, it makes him unelectable.”
The Anti-Defamation League has reportedly called on Trump to repudiate Duke’s support.
Trump reportedly knew Duke in 2000 and cited him, Pat Buchanan and Lenora Fulani when explaining why he stopped considering a presidential run under the Reform Party.
“The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep,” Trump said, according to The New York Times.
Also on Sunday, Trump, Cruz and Rubio, who also is Cuban and is the other top GOP candidate in the 2016 field, turned their campaigns into full-bore attack operations ahead of Super Tuesday, hurling insults at one another again on Sunday and tearing apart political stances and decades of work histories.
Trump began a “Fox News Sunday” interview with an extended, uninterrupted attack on Rubio, calling him a political “lightweight” and “little.”
“He couldn’t get elected dog catcher. I call him little Marco,” said Trump, making insults similar to those he’s used in recent days, with 595 delegates across 11 states up for grabs in Super Tuesday balloting.
Trump also defended attacks about hiring illegal Polish workers for a Manhattan construction project in the 1980s, saying a contractor made the hires and that the laws were different three decades ago.
Rubio and Cruz’s “Fox News Sunday” interview were nearly identical, with Cruz accusing host Chris Wallace of using Trump opposition research to frame questions and ending the interview in silence.
Cruz, the only candidate who has so far beaten Trump in a primary or caucus, said Super Tuesday will likely be the most important day of the primary season and that Trump cannot beat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“The only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump is mine,” said the Texas senator, arguing that 65 percent of GOP voters don’t support Trump. “The only way to beat Donald Trump is to stand behind our campaign on Super Tuesday.”
Cruz became upset over continued questions by Wallace about the integrity of his campaign, following allegations about so-called dirty tricks that resulted in the forced resignation of spokesman Rick Tyler.
Cruz also argued that Trump, as a businessman, gave money to members of both major political parties, including New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, which means Trump supports the so-called illegal immigration “amnesty bill” that Schumer, Rubio and six other senators passed.
He also hit the billionaire businessman Trump hard on failing to release his full tax returns, after Trump said, as he has before, that the delay is the result of an IRS audit.
Rubio continued to try to portray Trump as an unscrupulous businessman, again calling him a con man and suggesting his Trump University is “fake” and swindled aspiring real estate moguls like Trump.
“I believe he is a first-rate con artist and is on the verge of taking over the party of Lincoln and Reagan,” said Rubio, who appears to be the GOP establishment’s best and perhaps final chance at keeping Trump from winning enough delegates to take the party nomination.
The Florida senator downplayed the fact that he has yet to win a primary or caucus and argued his campaign will continue even if he fails to win a state on Super Tuesday and goes 0-15.
“Absolutely, we can [continue] because we’re going to pick up a lot of delegates,” Rubio said.