Days after bloody demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left a counterprotester dead, President Donald Trump denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name, calling those and other hate groups “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans.”
Trump’s comments came after two days of immense public pressure that he forcefully condemn white supremacists who gathered for a rally at which the counterprotester was killed. He decried racism as “evil” and said that “those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”
Much of the commentary focused on the timing of the statement and why Trump didn’t specifically condemn racist hate groups immediately rather than waiting for several days. Yet the statement also lacked one powerful – and critical – component: Trump failed to specifically reject support of the white nationalists, racists and bigots who say they back him.
Many of these groups appear emboldened since Trump’s election and seem to see the President as an ally in the White House. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana lawmaker, told reporters in Charlottesville Saturday that the protesters are “determined to take this country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”
After Trump tweeted earlier Saturday that everyone “must be united & condemn all that hate stands for,” Duke issued a fiery reply on Twitter, the President’s platform of choice: “I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”
On Saturday, the President was presented with an opportunity to swiftly reject the support of Duke and all white supremacists, full stop. He could have said that they do not represent him or his agenda.
He did not, and given a second opportunity during a hastily arranged statement at the White House, he refused yet again.
This is a President for whom politics is always unmistakably personal. And yet in a moment when he had an opportunity to speak to the American people with force and the moral authority of the presidency, he chose relative silence. When Trump did speak out days later, he began his statement by touting his administration’s accomplishments on the economy, trade and job creation. His remarks were measured and brief, and he took no questions from reporters.
This was a missed opportunity for the White House. But – unfortunately – the President will likely soon have another opportunity, as the white nationalist Richard Spencer has announced his plans to hold another rally in Charlottesville.
It’s up to the President to decide whether he’ll continue to delay or obfuscate his position on white supremacists, bigots and racists or say, definitively: I don’t want your support.