When former Vice President Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign with an online video yesterday, he focused special attention on Donald Trump’s 2017 response to violence in Charlottesville, Va.
“In that moment,” the Delaware Democrat said, “I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I’d seen in my lifetime.”
It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked the president this morning if he still believes there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville. “Oh, I’ve answered that question,” the Republican responded.
And if he’d stopped there, said nothing else, and fielded the next question, it would have demonstrated a degree of common sense and political agility. Trump did not, however, stop there.
“[I]f you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly.
“And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.
“I have spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought – of the generals, they think that he was maybe their favorite general.
“People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”
I’m curious what part of Donald Trump’s brain told him, “Nearly two years later, after international condemnations and brutal political blowback, now seems like a good time to relitigate my scandalous response to Charlottesville.”
In any case, let’s note right off the bat that the Republican’s effusive praise for a Confederate general is both wrong and weird. The idea that U.S. military leaders have singled out Lee as “maybe their favorite general” is extremely hard to believe. (And given this president’s habit of describing conversations that happened only in his mind, I’d recommend some skepticism about his claim.)
It’s also worth appreciating the fact that Trump’s reaction to the 2017 violence in Charlottesville was anything but “perfect.” He began by blaming “many sides” for what transpired, which led to bipartisan rebukes, and a clarification, which the president ended up stepping on soon after with even more incendiary remarks.
But even putting these relevant details aside, Trump wasn’t simply defending fans of a Robert E. Lee statue. The “fine people” the president defended in 2017 were the same people chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil.”
Is this really a debate Trump is eager to engage in? Again?