In its latest stranger-than-fiction move, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign selected a self-described white separatist to be one of his California delegates at the Republican National Convention.
William Johnson, who has written a book calling for African-Americans and other nonwhites to lose their U.S. citizenship and be deported, is on the official list of 169 delegates submitted by the Trump campaign to the secretary of State’s office.
In an ordinary campaign year, this might be shocking news. This year, less so. The response from Trump campaign officials when Mother Jones magazine called them out on it was essentially: “Oops.” Trump’s California campaign director put out a statement saying that Johnson was included in the delegate list by mistake.
But, really, this is a pretty significant goof-up considering that Johnson makes no secret about being chairman of the American Freedom Party, which seeks to “represent the political interests of White Americans.” Johnson conducted robocalls with a white nationalist message in support of Trump during the primaries. Trump was even questioned on the trail about accepting contributions from white supremacists, and he said he would return them. Johnson’s $250 donation was sent back.
Even if it was an honest mistake, “oops” is an insufficient response from a candidate who has screwed up this badly — especially one who has already been accused of racism and xenophobia for his comments about Mexicans and Muslims, and whose campaign has flirted with white nationalists in the past. Trump’s son appeared on a white nationalist radio show. Trump himself has retweeted comments from white nationalists. Each time, the explanation is: oops. Trump was also slow to disavow an endorsement from KKK leader David Duke.
Candidates shouldn’t have to disavow every unpalatable person who supports them. But in this case, it was Trump’s own campaign that selected Johnson, and as a result, the candidate owes voters a clear explanation. Will Trump state clearly and unequivocally that he does not want the support of white supremacists; that he rejects their ideology and sees no place for hate, racism or ethnic division in the United States? Or won’t he? California Republicans ought to watch and listen closely, and ask themselves: Is this the man to lead the GOP?