The biggest headline to come out of Tuesday night’s first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was the incumbent’s failure to clearly denounce white supremacists, when invited to.
Moderator Chris Wallace (of Fox News) said to Trump midway through the long 90 minutes, “Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups… and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a new number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha, and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
“Sure, I’m prepared to do it,” Trump at first responded, before adding: “But I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing and not the right wing.”
When Trump continued, “I’m willing to do anything” because he wants to “see peace,” Wallace urged him to do so. Trump asked Wallace, “Who would you like me to condemn?,” to which Biden suggested the Proud Boys (a far-right group that describes themselves as “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world”).
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 30, 2020
But rather than tell such groups to “stand down,” as clearly cued by Wallace, Trump responded, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” before again alleging that the real threats come from “Antifa and the left.”
Weighing in on the debate-at-large, CNN commentator Van Jones said, “Only three things happened for me tonight: Donald Trump refused to condemn white supremacy; the President of the United States refused to condemn white supremacy; the commander-in-chief refused to condemn white supremacy on the global stage, in front of my children, in front of everybody’s families, and he was given the opportunity multiple times to [do so].”
Instead, Van Jones contended, Trump gave a “wink and a nod” to the Proud Boys, the white supremacist group, that is now celebrating online” — in part by turning “Stand Back and Stand By” into a slogan/logo. “That’s the only thing that happened tonight.”
Brian Kilmeade, co-host of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, on Wednesday morning observed that “Donald Trump blew the biggest layup in the history of debates by not condemning white supremists [sic].
“I don’t know if he didn’t hear it, but he’s got to clarify that right away,” Kilmeade added. “Why the president didn’t just knock it out of the park, I’m not sure.”
Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley on Wednesday morning argued that when his client was asked by Wallace to condemn such groups, “he said ‘sure,'” while White House comms person Alyssa Farah told Fox News, “I don’t think that there’s anything to clarify” about Trump’s “Stand back and stand by” directive to the Proud Boys.