As Biden condemns violence, Trump defends backer accused of murder

Biden denounced violence in a forceful speech, and challenged Trump to meet his own standard. It was a challenge the Republican failed to meet.
Image: Donald Trump, Joe Biden
Donald Trump, Joe Biden.Getty Images/Reuters
By Steve Benen

As the White House and Donald Trump's re-election team scramble to make the 2020 election about crime and social unrest, the country is confronting a deeply strange dynamic. The incumbent president, four years removed from promising to make the country vastly safer, is insisting that his opponent is somehow to blame for violence that's unfolded on the incumbent president's watch.

Simultaneously, Trump, after having failed to deliver on his 2016 vow, is also telling the electorate that they should re-elect him in order to prevent the crime and social unrest Americans have seen unfold since he took office.

In case this weren't quite incoherent enough, the Republican has a bizarre habit of accusing Joe Biden of failing to condemn violence, even as Joe Biden repeatedly condemns violence.

Yesterday, this head-spinning dynamic came to a head as the Democratic nominee delivered a forceful address, denouncing those who resort to violence while holding Trump responsible for fomenting societal strife. Biden also challenged the incumbent president to meet his own standard and condemn violence as the former vice president had.

It was a challenge Trump failed to meet.

Mr. Trump defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old supporter of the president who was charged last week with two counts of first-degree homicide and one count of attempted homicide after he shot three protesters in Kenosha, Wis., in the unrest that has followed the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake. One of the people whom Mr. Rittenhouse is accused of shooting is said to have had his hands in the air.

A few hours earlier, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the president would not "weigh in" on the allegations surrounding Rittenhouse, a reported Trump supporter accused of murder. Soon after, however, the president apparently couldn't help himself.

"[T]hat was an interesting situation," Trump told reporters. "You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them, I guess; it looks like. And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been, I, he probably would have been killed. But it is under investigation.”

In other words, Trump pressed Biden to condemn violence, which Biden once again was eager to do. But given a chance to do the same thing, Trump not only balked, he defended an accused murderer, suggesting Rittenhouse's actions may have been warranted.

As part of the same press briefing, the president defended a caravan of supporters in Portland, calling them "peaceful." Reminded that there's video footage which appears to show them firing paintball guns and pepper spray, Trump said that didn't bother him, adding, "[P]aint is a defensive mechanism; paint is not bullets."

Of course, Rittenhouse is accused of firing bullets, and Trump suggested he saw those actions of defensible.

I've seen some comparisons between this and the president's notorious rhetoric about Charlottesville in 2017, but in some ways, yesterday's nonsense was worse. In 2017, Trump said he saw "very fine people" on "both sides" -- including the side with organized racists.

Three years later, the Republican only feels the need to support and defend one side.