Vice President Mike Pence is in Colombia today, where he specifically condemned the American radicals responsible for Saturday’s deadly violence in Charlottesville. “We will not tolerate hatred and violence of groups like white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis,” he told NBC News. “These extremist fringe groups have no place in the American debate.”
Had Donald Trump said the same thing on Saturday, the White House wouldn’t be scrambling to mitigate the damage done by the president’s fiasco.
But the vice president didn’t just condemn the racists the president chose not to single out; Pence also tried to redirect the criticisms towards the media.
Pence said he took issue with “the fact that many in the media are spending more time criticizing how the president addressed the issue yesterday.”
“Many in the media spent an awful lot of time focusing on what the president said and criticisms of what the president said instead of criticizing those who brought that hatred and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia,” Pence said.
It’s a problematic defense. Trump faced criticism – from the left, right, and center – because much is expected from a president, especially after developments like those we saw on Saturday, and Trump failed to clear a low bar. For Pence to suggest everyone leave the president alone, and focus criticisms solely on the white supremacists, misses the point.
But just as important, it wasn’t just “the media” that recognized Trump’s failure.
For Pence, there’s political value in trying to turn this into a two-sided dispute, with Trump on one side and “the media” on the other. But when the vice president admonishes the president’s critics, he’s scolding members of his own party, too.