During Monday’s edition of Anderson Cooper 360, the eponymous host and his panel engaged in a lengthy discussion about whether or not President Trump was a racist. One of the panelists, Charles Blow of The New York Times, used his platform to compare President Trump to white supremacist David Duke, arguing that his unsuccessful bid to become Governor of Louisiana in 1991 served as a “blue print for how the present GOP is running on a policy level.”
The segment began with Cooper playing a clip of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, one of several politicians using Martin Luther King Day as an excuse to smear President Trump as a racist. Jeffries called the President a “hater,” the “birther-in-chief,” and “the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Cooper asked Blow if he thought it was “appropriate for a sitting member of Congress to refer to the President as the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Blow responded, “I can’t object to that because I’ve referred to him as the grand wizard of birtherism myself.”
The debate got quite contentious, with Blow accusing his sparring partner Steve Cortes of lying and essentially calling him a racist for supporting President Trump. According to Blow, “I believe that people who pretend not to see racism or defend racism, as Steve just did, are part of that racism, which I believe Steve is a part of that racism.”
The conversation ended with Cooper asking Cortes if it bothered him that “somebody like David Duke is such a supporter of the President and always, you know, giving him plaudits for the things he said.” Cortes responded in the affirmative: “of course it does. It bothers me when crazies support any legitimate political movement. So it bothers me that David Duke endorses the President. The President does not endorse him. It also bothers me that the shooter of Steve Scalise endorsed…Senator Sanders… it doesn’t mean that Senator Sanders endorses that reprehensible attempted murderer.”
Rather than pretending to be objective by asking Blow if it bothered him that “crazies” such as Louis Farrakhan support the Democrats, Cooper gave him the floor to talk about how he “lived through David Duke running for office in Louisiana,” and argue that there are parallels between Duke and the President, when it comes to “policy,” “the way he treats the media,” “the way he has articulated his campaign,” and “his appeal to white voters.” In order to make his point, Blow brought up a New York Times article that argued “if you strip away all the white supremacy stuff from David Duke, it was basically a blue print for how the present GOP is running on a policy level.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Monday’s edition of Anderson Cooper 360 is below. Click “expand” to read more.
Anderson Cooper 360
ANDERSON COOPER: Well, each Martin Luther King Day, U.S. Presidents typically observe the holiday with service projects or by delivering remarks at a ceremony. Today, President Trump did neither. He did visit the late civil rights icon’s memorial in Washington. This President has faced an onslaught of criticism from the left for setting back race relations in America during his time in office. And some lawmakers took it further today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES: We have a hater in the White House, the birther-in-chief, the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. This is Senator Bernie Sanders.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Today, we talk about justice and today we talk about racism. And I must tell you, it gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a President of the United States who is a racist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, they certainly went there. Joining me now is Charles Blow, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, and former Trump Campaign Adviser, Steve Cortes. So, Charles, is it appropriate for a sitting member of Congress to refer, to refer to the President as the grand wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?
CHARLES BLOW: I can’t object to that because I’ve referred to him as the grand wizard of birtherism, myself. I’m vexed by the whole idea that we keep coming back to this question about whether or not the man is a racist when it is clear that his pattern of behavior over, over his entire life suggests that he is. And the fact that we keep discussing this as if it is an arguable point does damage to the truth. I mean, my definition of this is a combination of your words and deeds and your responses to other people being aggrieved by your words and your deeds, right? Do you say things that are racially insensitive or racist? Do you do things that are racially insensitive and racist? When people call you on it, do you apologize for it? Do you try to make clarify? Do you, do you back, back off of it anyway? He’s not done any of that. He has done all of the former two to qualify him as a racist. The fact that we keep coming back to this, I remember, I’ve been in news for 24 years. I remember a time when we did not call people a liar because we were saying, “Well, we don’t know what their intention was.” We said intent was the, was the definition of lying. What’s in their heart? People keep…and now we say liar all the time because, in fact, it is not about what’s in your heart. It’s about what is true and what is not. It is about the result of it. This is the same thing that we’re now facing with this issue of race and racism. We keep saying, “Well, we don’t know. I can’t say…
BLOW: …because I don’t know what’s in his heart.” It’s not about his heart. It’s not about his heart at all. And the fact that we keep posing this question as if it is a question does damage to the truth.
COOPER: Steve, what about that? I mean, I clearly…
STEVE CORTES: Yeah.
COOPER: …I assume you do not believe the President is, is racist. He’s certainly said racist things, yes?
STEVE CORTES: No, I won’t certainly concede that. What has he said that’s racist, Anderson?
COOPER: Well, calling African countries, you know, s-hole countries. The people there have AIDS in Haiti. The people in Nigeria live in huts.
COOPER: That he’d rather have…
CORTES: Okay, is any of that, is any of that substantiated on the record?
COOPER: That there’s good people on both sides at a Neo-Nazi rally? I mean…
CORTES: Okay, let’s, let’s take those one at a time. The things you said about…
COOPER: Let’s take the Neo-Nazi rally. Friday night, tiki torch march hundreds of white supremacists.
CORTES: Okay, let’s…please.
COOPER: He’s saying there’s good people on both sides. A good…they’re…
CORTES: Let’s talk about that.
CORTES: That’s not at all what he said. It was very, very clear in the context that he was saying there are good people on both sides of the Confederate monument debate and that is very true. There are people who believe…
COOPER: That’s actually not…
CORTES: …it’s important to preserve that heritage who are not racist.
CORTES: He was not saying there were people…
COOPER: He was talking about the Friday night tiki…
COOPER: Well, yeah, he was talking about the Friday night tiki torch…
COOPER: …march where people are chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
CORTES: That’s just not accurate. It was very, it was very clear in context that he was talking about the debate. But, look, I think on a bigger point, here’s the issue. When people like Charles Blow and when people like Congressman Jeffries slander the President and continue to call him a racist, here’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to marginalize him and our entire movement. They’re trying to say you have no standing in polite society. Why? Because you’re disrupting the system that we have built, which is built on identity politics, which serves the interests, yes, of a lot of politicians who happen to be of color but not communities of color. And I will tell you regarding the President’s heart, Charles, that when I met him for the first time as President, the first time I talked to him in the Oval Office, the very first thing he said to me, no cameras anywhere, was “what can I do to empower the Hispanic community?” And we had substantive conversations, and by the way, not just conversations but results because my answer to him was small business. The best way to help black and brown people in this country is to revitalize entrepreneurship; that has happened in, in so many ways. It’s really amazing over the last two years. And I believe it’s one of the reasons why Hispanic support for him, according to PBS, has risen all the way to 50 percent approval. If he’s a racist, he’s the worst racist in history.
BLOW: No, he’s not the worst. And let me tell you this, let me say this as well. First of all, never, never say I on television that I tried to slander anybody, I’m telling the truth and you’re lying as you normally do, right?
CORTES: Calling him a racist is a slander.
BLOW: I didn’t interrupt you. I didn’t interrupt you and you’re not going to interrupt me. When you were trying to tell the world that I was slandering somebody, I needed to refute you telling that lie, so you’re not going to interrupt me. And secondly, I believe that people who pretend not to see racism or defend racism, as Steve just did, are part of that racism, which I believe Steve is a part of that racism.
CORTES: Okay. So, I can’t call you a slanderer for calling the President a racist but then you can openly call me a racist without any evidence, without any justification. This is exactly the demagoguery…
BLOW: I just told you the parameters. The parameter that people who pretend not to see it and people who defend it are part of it.
CORTES: How do you…how could you…
BLOW: You’re just pretending not to see it.
BLOW: You’re just pretending not see it and knowingly defended it, that means that you are part of it.
CORTES: How could you possibly know that I’m pretending? Tell me that.
COOPER: Steve, does the fact that the President didn’t…
BLOW: Because you’re not blind, because you’re on television all the time, because they play the clips right in front of you like they play them in front of me, because you watch it on television. And then the fact that you came on and asked Anderson to enumerate the ways in which the President were racist, things that he has said that were racist, and pretended you didn’t know them already was already false, was already false.
CORTES: No, because I disagree with you.
BLOW: And you knew it’s false but you wanted to put Anderson on his, back on his heels to make him take up the time in trying to enumerate these things that you already knew.
BLOW: And then when Anderson enumerated those things, you started to try to defend them as not being what everybody in America knows that they are. That’s fine, Steve. You can be part of it.
CORTES: I disagree.
BLOW: I’m not knocking you for…
BLOW: …for supporting his racism.
BLOW: I’m not…I’m just saying that that’s what you’re doing.
CORTES: I’m not supporting, no.
BLOW: I have eyes and I have ears and I can see you doing it and you can see yourself doing it and you just need to own it.
CORTES: No. And as a matter of fact, you know what, you know what’s truly racist is to say that we’re going to consign entire American communities to low expectations and quite frankly to low output when it comes to education, when it comes to the economy. What this, what this President has done, he says, “No, we’re going to have the highest expectation for all Americans of all colors. And our policies are going to pursue prosperity and security for black and brown people.” First of all, last year was the first year in America in over a decade that Hispanic incomes outpaced white incomes. That’s no accident. That’s the result of policy. The reason, for example, that the President is so insistent on illegal immigration, he knows that the principle people and communities hurt by illegal immigration are black and Hispanic Americans.
COOPER: Steve, what about…
CORTES: He wants to protect them and promote their interest.
BLOW: That’s called a deflection. That is, that is a classic deflection.
COOPER: Does it concern you Steve that…
CORTES: It’s called the opposite of racism.
BLOW: …he switches it over. He takes it…he switches it over to stats about the economy. That’s fine.
CORTES: No, I already talked about what he said on Charlottesville. He was talking about the monument thing.
BLOW: You quote those stats but that is a classic example of deflection.
COOPER: Steve, does it…
BLOW: You’re good at this, Steve. I applaud you. I applaud what you do. You’re really good at this thing about you take an issue, you won’t answer the question. If you do answer the question, you either lie or you deflect and then you go to something else. That’s interesting.
CORTES: What lie have I told?
BLOW: And it probably makes good television, but you are…but it is a problem, what you’re doing, because it is a damage to the truth.
COOPER: Steve, does it bother you that somebody like David Duke is such a supporter of the President and always, you know, giving him plaudits for the things he says? The fact that the things that the President say register on the radar so strongly of white, of white supremacists and racists…
COOPER: …does that not raise any concern to you?
CORTES: Listen, Anderson, it’s a fair question. Of course it does. It bothers me when crazies support any legitimate political movement. So it bothers me that David Duke endorses the President. The President does not endorse him. It also bothers me that the shooter of Steve Scalise endorsed…
COOPER: The President pretended he didn’t know…
CORTES: Senator Sanders.
COOPER: …who David Duke was, but…
CORTES: …It doesn’t mean, it doesn’t mean that Senator Sanders endorses that reprehensible attempted murderer. So, if we, if we want to start affixing crazies to political movements, I think that’s an unfair way to proceed and we can do it with both sides. But, you know, would it bother me? Of course.
CORTES: It would bother me tremendously more if the President were doing anything in policy terms, if he were doing anything that David Duke would actually like. In fact, he’s doing the opposite. He’s empowering black and white Americans.
BLOW: But that is precisely what he’s doing. So I lived through David Duke running for office in Louisiana. I was a college student there and watched that in real time. And also, this past election cycle, I taught a course at Yale, you know, there have been some amazing books written about David Duke’s political life, not him as a, as the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but his political life. And the parallels both in terms of policy, in terms of the way he treats the media, in terms of the way he has articulated his campaign and his appeal to white voters is exactly the same as Donald Trump. And in fact, The New York Times wrote, wrote a story a couple years ago about how if you strip away all of the white supremacy stuff from David Duke it was basically a blue print for how the present GOP is running on a policy level, not about like I’m the ex-grand wizard of Ku Klux Klan, on a policy level. He basically was the blue print. So what is that? So this idea of like, “Oh, I would be upset if it was a policy issue.” You should be upset because it is exactly the policy.
COOPER: We’ve got to leave it there. Charles Blow, Steve Cortes, I appreciate it. Thank you.