Presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, who is among the Democratic contenders who has called Trump a white nationalist, was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" whether it's a "racist act" to vote for him in 2020.
"Well, at best, it means looking the other way on racism," Buttigieg responded. "But, I think, a lot of people are wondering what kind of deal even that is supposed to be."
The South Bend, Indiana, mayor pointed to Trump's recent campaign rally in New Hampshire when the president said people will support him – even if they don't like him – because the economy is doing well.
“You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes,” Trump said. “Whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.”
Buttigieg said Trump's message is really: "I want you to look the other way on the racism, tolerate the negativity, accept the instability of my administration because I am going to deliver for you job growth almost as good as the Obama years."
"That’s what his argument amounts to right now," Buttigieg said. "And it’s part of the reason why he’s unpopular."
But Democrats may risk becoming unpopular with potentially persuadable Trump voters if they appear to be condemning them, the way Hillary Clinton came to regret saying in 2016 that half of Trump’s supporters fell into the "basket of deplorables."
Trump has dismissed criticism that his campaign trail rhetoric has created an atmosphere of hate that presaged the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
And, when defending his attacks on African American and Hispanic lawmakers last month, Trump called himself "the least racist person there is anywhere in the world."
Some Democratic hopefuls have criticized Trump's rhetoric without applying the same label to the president.
"Whether he is or is not a white supremacist, he encourages, everything he does speaks to them," former Vice President Joe Biden said earlier this month.
In a CNN appearance earlier this month, Buttigieg was asked if he considers Trump to be a white nationalist.
"Yeah, I mean, at best, he is condoning and encouraging white nationalism," Buttigieg responded.
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