After the first presidential debate on Tuesday, Democrats savaged President Donald Trump as a “white supremacist” and even Republicans said they wished the president had vocally condemned white supremacists. Trump clarified his remarks on Wednesday, explaining that he did not know who the Proud Boys are, insisting that he has “always denounced any form” of white supremacy, and demanding that Democratic nominee Joe Biden vocally denounce antifa.
During the debate, Fox News anchor and moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump, “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups” — Trump cut in, saying, “Sure” — “and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
Joe Biden falsely claimed today that President Trump "doesn't deny" the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Here are 7 examples of President Trump condemning and rejecting the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. pic.twitter.com/1PZnZpUT4o
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) August 7, 2019
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” the president responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing. I’m willing to do anything, I want to see peace.”
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“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace said. “Do it. Say it,” Biden chimed in.
“What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name,” Trump said.
“White supremacists and right-wing militias,” Wallace said. Biden also spoke over him, saying, “White supremacists, Proud Boys.”
Trump, flustered, addressed the only named group, the Proud Boys. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” the president said. “But I tell you what, I tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the Left.”
It would have been more satisfying if Trump had said, “Of course I denounce white supremacists like I’ve been doing for years. And to the Proud Boys, I say, ‘Stand down, and let law enforcement do their jobs.'” Yet it seems, in the heat of the moment, the president realized he did not have much time and he wanted to say, “Sure,” give a quick statement urging militia groups to stand down, and then go after his opponent.
Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) quickly seized on this clip as evidence that “Trump is a white supremacist.” Yet Trump has repeatedly denounced and condemned white supremacy and white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan.
As PJ Media’s Stacey Lennox pointed out, Chris Wallace should know. Trump firmly denounced the KKK and white supremacists in a presidential debate in 2016 — after Wallace asked him. “I totally disavow the Ku Klux Klan. I totally disavow David Duke. I’ve been doing it now for two weeks,” then-candidate Trump said. “That question was also talked about in the form of groups, groups. I want to know, which groups are you talking about? Which groups?”
It made sense that Trump might be a bit flustered about the white supremacist question. He has denounced white supremacy time and time again, and he wanted to know exactly which groups Wallace and Biden would have him deny.
On Tuesday, Trump clarified his remarks.
“I don’t know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you’re going to have to give me a definition because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do the work,” the president told reporters at the White House. “Again, I don’t know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”
A reporter pressed the president on his order that the Proud Boys “stand by.” Trump said, “stand by” dismissively, using his hands to shove people out of the way. It seems the president did not mean to tell the Proud Boys to “stand by” as in “stand at the ready,” but rather to say, “stand aside and let the police do their jobs.”
“Look, law enforcement will do their work,” Trump added. Right-wing militias are “going to stand down, they have to stand down, everybody, whatever group you’re talking about.”
“Now, antifa is a real problem, because the problem is on the Left, and Biden refuses to talk about it,” the president added. “He’s got to condemn antifa.”
Reporters pressed Trump on white supremacists. “White supremacists, do you denounce them?” a reporter asked.
“I’ve always denounced them, any form,” the president responded. “Any form of any of that you have to denounce,” he added. Again, the president pivoted. “Joe Biden has to say something about antifa, it’s not a philosophy. These are people that hit people over the head with baseball bats.” (Indeed, an antifa militant received a nearly 6-year prison sentence after busting a man’s head open with a baton.)
While antifa and Black Lives Matter agitators have sparked riots in the name of racial justice, their lawlessness has wreaked havoc on Americans as a whole and on the black community in particular. The riots have disproportionately damaged black communities in Kenosha, Wisc., Minneapolis, and Chicago. The riots destroyed black lives, black livelihoods, and black monuments. At least 26 Americans have died in the riots, most of them black.
While Biden condemned the arson and looting early on and more recently, he remained silent for months. He singled out “right-wing militias” but never condemned antifa or Black Lives Matter agitators.
During the debate, Trump made important arguments and he was right on substance, but his aggressive demeanor made it difficult for the president to get his points across. Wallace also pressed Trump more than he pressed Biden, as the white supremacy question illustrated. Biden interrupted Trump, as well. In this cacophany, Trump failed to deliver the strong and clear response Americans expected.
Yet the president’s remarks on Wednesday clarified his meaning. Trump wants law enforcement, not militias, to bring peace to America’s cities. He has repeatedly condemned white supremacists and said, “Sure,” when asked to do so yet again.
The president’s central argument remains as true as ever: Joe Biden must denounce antifa.