Editor’s note: Trump’s his own worst enemy
President Donald Trump on Monday finally called out perpetrators of the senseless violence in Virginia over the weekend for what they are: racist “thugs.”
And he specifically named the KKK and the neo-Nazis who participated in the Charlottesville protest, which resulted in a woman’s death when a 20-year-old Ohio man ran over a group of counter-protesters. Nineteen others were injured. Two state police officers also died after their helicopter crashed while trying to manage the unrest between the white nationalists and protesters of the rally.
Why was that so hard? By waiting two days to make his condemnation statement more specific, Trump (as he so often does) turned the headlines on himself.
The president’s comment on Saturday referred to the incident as an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” The “many sides” piece of that sentence conveyed the message that Trump was equivocating on white supremacy.
His reaction dismayed even many leading Republicans, who took to social media to set themselves apart from Trump.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wrote: “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.”
And Michigan Congressman Justin Amash put it this way: “.@POTUS, America’s children are watching. Denounce white nationalists & their evil ideology. They are enemies of liberty & our Constitution.”
That’s what Americans needed to hear from their president. The responsibility fell instead to Vice President Mike Pence to say what Trump didn’t.
Pence, who is on an important trip to South America, in light of growing turmoil in Venezuela, had to be the grown-up in the White House and strongly condemned the violence.
“We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK,” Pence said Sunday. “These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life or in the public debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
Yet Pence also defended Trump and chided the media for jumping all over the president, rather than keeping the focus on the hate groups involved in the violence.
Trump is right that there are extremist groups on both sides of the political spectrum who have wreaked havoc at protests around the country. In Seattle over the weekend, for instance, tensions erupted between a planned pro-Trump rally and anti-fascist (Antifa) demonstrators.
But this wasn’t the time for the president to paint with a broad brush. Trump earned the criticism he received.
It’s a mistake he’s made before, and one he never seems to learn from.