The ten Trumpiest minutes of his presidency so far. On Saturday his statement on Charlottesville blamed both sides; yesterday, after taking flak, he made a second statement specifically condemning white supremacists. This press conference amounts to him saying that the first statement is the operative one. “There are two sides to a story,” he said about about a rally organized by white nationalists and the ensuing fracas. I think it’s the purest litmus test of Trumpism I’ve ever seen. If you dislike him, you’ll hate it, if you like him, you’ll love it. He’s roundhousing the media, he’s whatabouting the right-wing part of the violence, he’s standing up for monuments to Robert E. Lee. He can go ahead and fire Bannon now without fear if he wants to. He just banked enough populist goodwill to protect his right flank for the rest of his term.
The rest of the country, though? Eh:
Blind quote of the day: "That was all him — this wasn't our plan” – a senior WH official tells @jeffzeleny of Trump
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) August 15, 2017
His neo-Nazi fans are in raptures, understandably:
Short of him overtly endorsing the alt-right, which he can’t do (I think?), I don’t know what more he could have said here to make them happy. He stressed that not everyone who was at the demonstration in front of the Robert E. Lee statue on Friday night was a white nationalist, that some perfectly decent people were part of the group. This group? The one carrying torches and chanting things like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”? He went to bat for Robert E. Lee too, wondering whether statues of Washington and Jefferson will be next to fall if the Lee statues come down. Some leftists do want all memorials to slaveholders torn away but I don’t know why Trump would play their game by making monuments an all-or-nothing proposition. He could have drawn a distinction by noting that Lee was a traitor who fought against the country founded by Washington and Jefferson. It’s not hard to draw a line there. If you want to.
There are plenty of clashes between antifa and the alt-right to come. Some of them will happen at demonstrations organized by the former rather than the latter, some will see more damage inflicted by the former than the latter. We’ll see if Trump resorts to “both sides” rhetoric then too or if he’ll seize the opportunity to focus mainly on the left’s violence, as he should do in circumstances like that. As it is, the upshot of today’s “both sides” remarks is to bring the alt-right into the fold as a legitimate part of the GOP base. Any other Republican president would have felt no pressure to spread the blame; white nationalists aren’t part of his coalition so he’s under no obligation to defend them, even indirectly. Trump going to bat for them not once but twice now with his “both sides” insistence is his way of signaling that he does feel some duty to spin for them. They’re on the team. No wonder they’re ecstatic.