Eleven months ago, we chided then- vice presidential candidate Mike Pence for his seeming unwillingness to “deplore” David Duke.
For Pence, it seemed a quibble over semantics — after all, he argued, he and his running mate Donald Trump had renounced the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly. And he insisted that he’s “not in the name-calling business.”
As we said at the time, the issue kept coming up because “appearing reluctant to ‘deplore’ a white supremacist — even in the name of civility — is never a good look.”
Not a good look for a candidate for vice president — and, as Americans have come to understand over a violent, tragic weekend in Charlottesville, Va., — not for the leader of the Free World.
Because it wasn’t until two days after the deadly clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters that President Trump denounced the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis by name in response to a wave of criticism of his initial comments.
The facts are clear: One person was killed and 19 were hurt when a speeding car slammed into a group of counterprotesters at a rally of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in an effort to, in their words, “take America back.” In a separate incident, two Virginia state troopers monitoring the protest were killed when their helicopter crashed in woods not far from Charlottesville.
Also clear: This is the sort of tragedy that calls for presidential words of comfort and words of affirmation of what America stands for — and what it stands against. And what it stands against, obviously, is the ideology, the hate and the violence promoted by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Klan.
Instead, on Saturday, the president, a man known for talking — and tweeting — on full blast, delivered tepid comments that never even mentioned white supremacists. Hours after the tragic events unfolded, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
His initial reluctance to call out white nationalists — and his implication that there’s blame to go around for what happened — sparked backlash, including from some Republicans. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
From Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.”
Vice President Pence put out a statement calling out white supremacy.
It’s fair to question the sincerity of the president’s later remarks, which came after relentless, widespread criticism. They can’t undo all the damage done by his initial words. The most significant reaction to Trump’s Saturday remarks didn’t come from a politician or a pundit. It came from white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who appreciated that the words chosen by the president of the United States didn’t condemn them. That didn’t change until two days later.
No, still not a good look.