I wonder if this is true or if his inner circle is trying to run from the heat he took this weekend by falsely claiming that Trump went rogue in blaming “many sides” for the violence.
He’s usually pretty good about sticking to the script in a big spot when he knows his words really matter. Think back to his address to Congress in February. On the other hand, his visit to NATO HQ this summer called for an explicit affirmation of America’s commitment to Article 5 and his prepared remarks included one. His remarks as delivered … did not. The president’s not above making a momentous last-minute change in a speech that ends up causing him political grief later.
In fact, Trump had a written statement on Saturday that was similar in tone and substance to the one he delivered on Monday, according to a senior White House adviser. But the president veered from those prepared remarks.
Political analysts said Trump’s drawn-out response was part of a double game — an effort to avoid alienating part of his base followed quickly by a pivot to tamp down the outrage.
It’s like how he handled the grilling he got last year from Jake Tapper about David Duke, notes Politico, first responding tepidly and then checking the box later with something more forceful to quiet the outcry over his initial comments. In that sense he covers all of his bases: He can honestly say afterward that he denounced the alt-right while the initial tepid condemnation is seen by alt-righters themselves as a wink and a nod of solidarity. (The Daily Stormer was euphoric after Trump’s “many sides” statement on Saturday, crowing, “There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all.”) He did this on a grander scale with the Birther saga too. Five years ago he was an outspoken skeptic about Obama having been born in the U.S.; then, after he became a candidate in 2015, he dodged the subject in interviews as best he could; then, during the general election last year, he spoke up to say he now believes O was born in the U.S. after all. It’s all circumstantial. He’ll say the thing that he knows some of his supporters want to hear first, then he’ll grudgingly water it down later if political reality absolutely requires him to back off.
Per the AP, his advisors wanted him to say something more specific about white nationalist groups from the outset, on Saturday:
The president had indicated to advisers before his initial statement Saturday that he wanted to stress a need for law and order, which he did. He later expressed anger to those close to him about what he perceived as the media’s unfair assessment of his remarks, believing he had effectively denounced all forms of bigotry, according to outside advisers and White House officials.
Several of Trump’s senior advisers, including new chief of staff John Kelly, had urged him to make a more specific condemnation, warning that the negative story would not go away and that the rising tide of criticism from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill could endanger his legislative agenda, according to two White House officials.
Interesting that Kelly saw the backlash coming and tried to avert it. The “many sides” comment failed not because it was strictly wrong but because it smelled like an attempt to shift blame after a white nationalist attacked a bunch of protesters. Imagine if some antifa nut had driven a car into a group of right-wingers and Obama had said, “Well, don’t forget, there’s violence on the right too.” Not wrong per se but really wrong for the occasion. And that analogy undersells it since Obama wasn’t an icon of the antifa left to quite the same extent that Trump, with his army of online Pepes, is to the alt-right. He wasn’t just diverting responsibility away from Nazis after one of their own killed someone, he was providing cover for people who vocally idolize him as a supposed sympathizer with their cause. It felt like a favor to a racist part of his base, which would be gross under any circumstances but really gross under these particular circumstances. All he had to say was “I don’t want these dirtbags using my name. I’m not on their side and no decent person should be, however the worst dregs of the left might behave.” Couldn’t do it. That’s not how he rolls.
Will the president be going to Charlottesville this week, perhaps, to help heal the nation? Uh, no. That would only make things worse at this point and everyone knows it, including the White House. In lieu of an exit question, here’s an interesting clip from Rush Limbaugh last year after the David Duke episode. Rush’s theory for why Trump wouldn’t slam Duke more definitively on Tapper’s show: He didn’t want to get too crosswise with Duke on something with the audience reach of a Sunday morning program.