As many of us predicted, Donald Trump followed up his tightly scripted presidential speech on Afghanistan by busting loose with a red-meat campaign address in Phoenix tonight.
But what was surprising was that Trump insisted on spending a good half-hour revisiting in painful detail his three sets of comments — all of them unsatisfactory in one fashion or the other — about the violence in Charlottesville. And he told two big lies about them, one explicit and the other implicit. The first lie was that “the media” did not report his words about Charlottesville. Unfortunately for him, “the media” covered them in excruciating detail. The subtler lie was the suggestion that only “the media” had an issue with his comments. In fact, a vast number of Republicans criticized his initial, interim, and final remarks about the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville — especially his extended remarks a week ago blaming the “alt-left” for the violence and praising the “very fine people” among the torch-carrying defenders of Robert E. Lee.
There can be little doubt that the president was widely advised to put the whole Charlottesville issue behind him. CNN pundit Chris Cillizza summed it up well before the fact:
To re-litigate Charlottesville in any way – including using it as an example of how the “very fake” media misconstrued what he said (we didn’t) – would be a huge mistake, effectively reopening a political debate that Trump has zero chance of winning. (As evidenced by the strongly negative views of how he has handled it thus far in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.)
But instead of moving on, Trump took a disastrous and losing talking point and repeated it over and over again when absolutely no one wanted or needed him to do that. He actually made it all worse by once again arguing that taking down Confederate monuments is the same as attacking George Washington, and expressing sympathy for Jeffrey Lord, who was fired by CNN after he used a Nazi slogan in a tweet.
What made the whole display especially bizarre is that the president wrapped this unwholesome stroll back through his reprehensible handling of Charlottesville in a “national unity” pitch, playing off his speech last night. The clear implication is that his supporters were the only true and patriotic Americans — not the “dishonest” media, or the obstructionist Democrats, or the Republican senators from Arizona that he attacked without mentioning their names.
This president is truly incorrigible, and apparently he won’t stop dragging us all back through the muck of his worst “thoughts” until he can no longer find a crowd to applaud them.