The underlying controversy wasn’t over by any stretch, but it’d fade from the headlines if the president managed to just stop making things worse.
And yet, after finding himself in a hole, Donald J. Trump found a shovel – and kept digging.
In a long, combative exchange with reporters at Trump Tower, the president repeatedly rejected a torrent of bipartisan criticism for waiting several days before naming the right-wing groups and placing blame on “many sides” for the violence that ended with the deaths of a young woman after a car crashed into a crowd.
Mr. Trump repeated that assertion on Tuesday, criticizing “alt-left” groups that he claimed were “very, very violent” when they sought to confront the nationalist and Nazi groups that had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park. He said there is “blame on both sides.”
Sounding very much like a right-wing Twitter feed, the president added, “Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
Trump went on to defend the tiki-torch-wielding racists who gathered on Friday night, before saying, in reference to the racist activists, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
Why we’re supposed to “believe him” is unclear.
I’ve seen some suggestions that this brings Trump back to where he was over the weekend, but that’s ultimately inadequate. I’m afraid this was vastly worse than Saturday’s display.
The president’s remarks on Saturday, referencing bigotry on “many sides” was ridiculous, but subtle. Today’s display – quite possibly the worst presidential press conference in American history – removed the subtext.
He actually argued that there were “very fine people on both sides” and that he believes “there’s blame on both sides.”
If that sounds like a message white supremacists will be thrilled to hear, we don’t need to speculate: David Duke has already thanked Trump for this afternoon’s comments.
The president thought it’d be a good idea today to pour lighter fluid on a simmering fire. Why any decent person would choose to stand with Trump after this breathtaking display is a complete mystery.