The floor was his. He was asked to do it. And yet Donald Trump on Tuesday repeatedly failed to condemn white supremacists and other violent right wingers that support him. Instead, he pivoted and dodged.
Moderator Chris Wallace tee’d up the question for the President. And it was a softball: “Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, 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.”
Sure, Trump began, “I’m willing to do that, but…”
“Then do it!” Joe Biden said.
But Trump didn’t: “I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.”
Wallace pressed again, but Trump asked for specifics: “What do you want to call them? Give me a name.”
White supremacists, Wallace said.
“The Proud Boys,” Biden interjected, referring to the right-wing street gang that relishes physical confrontations.
Trump wound up, then let out a dribbler.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”
Chris Wallace: "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down…"
Trump: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left." pic.twitter.com/4vrPocKzcu
— Axios (@axios) September 30, 2020
Within minutes, a social media account for the Proud Boys had turned Trump’s quote into a celebratory graphic. Their leadership cheered Trump. Joe Biggs, a prominent Proud Boy in Portland, subsequently wrote, “Trump basically said to go fuck them up! this makes me so happy.”
“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA…well sir!” Biggs wrote separately. “We’re ready!!!
It was anything but a condemnation, as civil rights groups pointed out.
“This is all they’ve wanted since 2016,” wrote Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, referring to the Proud Boys leaders’ posts and Trump’s non-condemnation.
“Trying to determine if this was an answer or an admission,” wrote Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.
“@POTUS owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.”