Donald Trump shifted course on Wednesday, saying he does not know the white supremacist group known as the “Proud Boys” after telling them during the first presidential debate to “stand back and stand by” when asked to condemn all such groups.
"I don't know who the proud boys are,” he claimed while leaving the White House for a campaign fundraiser and rally in Minnesota. You’ll have to give me a definition. … I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.
Mr Trump for the second consecutive day was given a chance to clearly denounce all white supremacist groups, but he would again not say the words in a way that left no doubt.
“I’ve always denounced any form. Any form of any of that you, have to denounce,” he said. “But Joe Biden needs to say something about Antifa. … Now, Antifa is a real problem. … Biden refuses to talk about it.”
But he did several times instruct the Proud Boys to stand aside during protests, though he did not denounce the group’s racist beliefs.
"Whoever they are, they need to stand down" during protests across the country over perceived racial inequality and police violence against black people, the president said.
The president also told reporters on the executive mansion’s South Lawn that he has always denounced white racist groups.
A review of his record since taking office suggests otherwise, however.
Following protests organised by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president was pressed to condemn the pro-white activists. Instead, he contended there were “very fine people on both sides,” also referring to counter-protesters, one of whom was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd.
“Law enforcement will do the work more and more as people see how bad this radical liberal Democrat movement is, and law enforcement is going to come back stronger and stronger,” he said. “But again, I don’t know who Proud Boys are, but they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.
In one of the most powerful moments of the Tuesday night debate, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked Mr Trump if he was “willing to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and they need to stand down.”
“I’m willing to do that,” the president said, then turning to the ongoing protests, he added: “Almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right-wing. … I want to see peace.”
Mr Wallace then asked him to denounce violent white nationalism by groups like the Proud Boys. The president hesitated, but did not say the words even some Republican lawmakers wanted to hear.
Here’s the president in his own words on Tuesday night: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, 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."
Earlier Wednesday, Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s lone black Republican, sent the president a message that Mr Trump did not heed.
“White supremacy should be denounced at every turn,” Mr Scott told reporters at the Capitol. “I think the president misspoke, and he needs to correct it. If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak.”
Pretty pathetic defense here.