Evaluating Damage from Trump’s Ambivalence

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The last five days have been terrible for this country.

And the sad reality is that President Trump has not only failed to make those days better, he has intentionally made them worse.

Americans look to the president to rise to the occasion in moments of national crisis. We look to the moral authority of the office to summon our better angels, to calm the storm, to offer hope.

Mr. Trump’s inadequate statement on Saturday, his puzzling 48-hour delay before his flatly read statement Monday, and his unhinged press conference Tuesday combine to paint a very ugly picture. This country was already deeply divided after a close national election. It is now deeply divided over racial issues.

Condemning white supremacists, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan is not a close call. On this question, Mr. Trump air-balled a layup â€" twice.

The damage from his undisciplined and petulant Tuesday press conference is immense. It proves that his excellent statement from Monday was a hostage video and did not represent his true views, a deeply dispirited and troubling development.

His opponents have made criticisms of his views and record on race issues in the past, and his press conference proved the criticisms to be legitimate.

Monday’s statement was the kind that any of Mr. Trump’s predecessors could have given. It was tough, it was specific, it was unifying. It was exactly what was needed.

Mr. Trump should have let that statement speak for him. He should have been disciplined enough to keep an event about infrastructure limited to talk of bridges, roads and airports.

Monday’s statement should have been given Saturday. Perhaps because it was a weekend, or his staff are spread across the country, or that he is on a “working vacation” in New Jersey, a typical response effort was more challenging. These are possible excuses, none of which I find compelling.

By Saturday afternoon, the facts were already known.

By Tuesday, Mr. Trump was consumed with the need to settle scores, not heal wounds.

He was technically correct that among the participants, there were surely some on the far left that wished to be violent. But in making that point, and in appearing to offer moral equivalence between the white supremacists and the anti-white supremacist protesters, he poured gasoline on an open racial fire.

Even the former KKK leader David Duke celebrated the president’s Tuesday comments. What more does anyone need to know?

Here are the questions that I want answered:

Why didn’t Mr. Trump speak up Friday, ahead of the rallies, and urge all citizens to protest peacefully and resist any desire to be violent?

Who in the White House was advising the president not to condemn white supremacists, and why hasn’t Mr. Trump clearly said that he does not want the support of white supremacists? How does he plan to offer racial healing and atone for these mistakes?

I pray there will be no more violence, but I fear that the white supremacists now have new momentum based on what occurred in Charlottesville, which they consider a success, and based on the moral equivalence offered by the president.

White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK should be listed as terrorist organizations and treated as such.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions should be commended for announcing within hours that the FBI is launching a terrorism investigation of Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville.

This has been a terrible week for the country and Mr. Trump has unconscionably contributed to it.

He must make this right. He must heal this country. He must stop making this worse.

As former Vice President Joseph R. Biden said, “There is only one side.”

Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, TX, and Washington, DC-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” is produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and on the web at MackOnPolitics.com.

Matt Mackowiak
Potomac Strategy Group, LLC

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