Does he really not understand it, or is this just the way this sort of criticism has to be phrased on Fox, as a form of “confusion”?

It’s surprising that Kilmeade would express dissatisfaction with Trump’s answer when the line among MAGA media this morning is that he *did* condemn white supremacists. Wallace asked him if he would and he said “sure.” It’s right there in the transcript.

But then he said some other stuff. That’s what has Kilmeade “confused.”

I wrote about how Trump approaches racial politics last week after he started chattering to an audience in Minnesota about “good genes” and the “racehorse theory.” There’s no demographic group that he disdains so much that he won’t happily embrace them if they embrace him first. There are, in fact, really only two groups that exist in his mind, I suspect — people who like him and people who don’t. If you’re pro-Trump then there’s no sin you’ve committed that he can’t overlook. If you’re anti-Trump then your “sins,” like being an immigrant, are unforgivable. That’s why he knocks Ilhan Omar for the “sin” of hailing from a “sh*thole country” while extolling Cuban-Americans as an inspiration who escaped poverty and oppression to find a better life. It’s all filtered through how people view him. Everything is.

That’s how he ran into trouble with the Proud Boys comment last night. Ask him to clearly denounce a group which he knows supports him and … he just can’t, even when it’s to his benefit to do so. Is Trump secretly a hardcore white supremacist? Nah. His most powerful advisor, Jared Kushner, is Jewish. His Jewish daughter is the apple of his eye. But he’s certainly aware that white supremacists like him and his narcissism won’t allow him to emphatically reject a pro-Trump group, whether or not it’s immoral. You can imagine him thinking, “If they like me so much, how immoral could they be?”

Whether the Proud Boys are properly categorized as “white supremacist” is a separate question and not that important in the context of Trump’s answer. What’s important from his exchange with Biden and Wallace is him (a) winking approvingly at the idea of street battles between left and right, which is certainly the least responsible thing ever said at a presidential debate (by a sitting president, no less) and (b) suggesting that the Proud Boys should “stand by” for … something. He didn’t elaborate on what that something should be, but given that he refused Wallace’s invitation to ask his fans not to engage in “civil unrest” after the election, one can guess. Which must be the second-least responsible thing ever said at a presidential debate.

The Proud Boys themselves don’t feel denounced by Trump at all this morning. Quite the contrary.

“The general of the Proud Boys.” Other members of the group were ecstatic:

Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs also posted after the debate that he was “standing by,” and he said the president “basically said to go f— them up.”

“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA… well sir! we’re ready!!” Biggs wrote.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a tweet that the president’s answer was “astonishing.”

“President Trump owes America an apology or an explanation,” he said. “Now.”

“If I were covering this in any other country I’d say the president, in an ugly slugfest of a debate, called his militia to attention, putting them on the ready,” said Richard Engel of NBC. Maybe that’s an underrated reason for Biden to skip the next two debates. He shouldn’t want to give Trump another opportunity in front of 90 million people to “basically say to go f*** them up” to his most ardent fans.

The daily ritual of reporters pressing Senate Republicans for reactions to Trump’s latest outrageous comment has already begun. Mitt Romney told them this morning that “of course” Trump should unambiguously condemn white supremacists when asked. Tim Scott’s answer was more nuanced — and more interesting:

“If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak.” Hmm. I’d be curious to hear Scott explain what he thought Trump meant when he “misspoke” by saying “stand by.”

I’ll leave you with historian Jon Meacham, who spoke at the Democratic convention, speculating about the possibility of a “quiet Biden” contingent among the electorate arising in a backlash to what Trump said last night. I think he’s kidding himself, but it’s an interesting counterpoint to the phenomenon of the “shy Trump voter” we’ve heard about for four years. Some Trump fans are embarrassed to tell pollsters that they support him for fear of being judged, the theory goes, which is why Trump did better in swing states in 2016 than pollsters predicted. I don’t know who Meacham has in mind when he imagines a “shy Biden voter,” but I suppose there are people among Trump’s working-class white base who live in red states and have pro-Trump spouses, family, and friends who might not want to feel like the odd man out by advertising their skepticism of him. Guess we’ll find out in five weeks.