I've got to admit, I'm sincerely surprised by the White House's ongoing efforts to address the fallout from President Trump's televised near-endorsement of the Proud Boys right-wing hate group. No, I'm not surprised that he told a thuggish street militia to "stand by" — anyone actually shocked by that has probably been in a deep coma for the past four years — which, honestly, I'm jealous.
What shocks me, though, is the fact that almost two days after Trump was asked to condemn white supremacist groups, and managed only to say that he'd be "willing to" before doing, uh, not that, neither he nor his administration have appeared to figure out a way to clean up their latest mess without making it worse.
Essentially, the crisis response plan — if you can call it that — has been as follows:
- Insist that the president has previously been critical of white supremacy (true, but barely, and largely under duress)
- Claim that the president has no idea who the Proud Boys even are
- Offer a halfhearted "hey fellas, why don't you cool it, alright?" sort of dismissal when asked again if Trump thinks the Proud Boys should really "stand by"
- Not actually condemn white supremacy (see #1, repeat)
Here's White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday trying and failing to make it through this ostensibly simple four-step process.
And here she is during the same press briefing, listing a handful of examples of the president previously critiquing white supremacy and racism, even as she very conspicuously refused to do so today:
In part, the laughably bad White House response can be blamed on the simple fact that the president, whose history of expressing racist thoughts and opinions is upsettingly long, may just have no interest in actually distancing himself from his core group of supporters (ones who are, in the meantime, absolutely thrilled at his endorsement). But even if you were to suspend every last shred of disbelief in your body and accept the premise that Trump is genuinely committed to criticizing — not even fighting! — racism, how embarrassing is it that the White House is trying to claim he somehow was totally oblivious to who the Proud Boys are, before publicly denouncing them on national television? Because that's evidently what McEnany and even Trump himself would like you to believe.
If that's the case, then you have to ask yourself: What else is the president willing to denounce, or promote, without having ever heard of before? Do you think a savvy questioner could get the president to condemn German noise rockers Einstürzende Neubauten, or maybe trick him into endorsing lutefisk, Norway's revolting iconic jellied fish recipe? I mean, hell, even Fox News is getting fed up with how ridiculous this all is:
It's strange to think that the White House could simply say "we condemn all forms of white supremacy and racism, regardless of whether we're familiar with a specific group or not" knowing that the the bulk of the Washington press corps would take that as a sign they can ease off and move onto the next news cycle. But instead, for some strange reason, the Trump administration simply cannot stick the landing on this one. It'd be funny — it is funny — if it weren't so terrifying.