At Tuesday’s presidential debate in Cleveland, moderator Chris Wallace asked President Trump if he was willing to “condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down.”
“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump replied.
After Trump expressed a willingness to condemn those groups and tell them to stand down, Wallace asked Trump he’d “specifically” do that.
“I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing,” Trump replied.
“But what are you saying?” asked Wallace.
“I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace,” Trump replied.
After some more crosstalk, Trump said: “Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn?”
Joe Biden then mentioned the extremist group “Proud Boys.”
Trump then said: “Okay, Proud Boys stand back and stand by.”
To parse this comment, when Trump said they should “stand back,” he is basically using Wallace’s own words — “stand down.” That’s good.
The words “stand by,” of course, often mean something very different — “to be present” or “to remain apart or aloof” or “to be or to get ready to act.” Telling them to “stand by” was very bad.
Asked about Trump’s comments, South Carolina Republican senator Tim Scott said on Wednesday: “I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it. If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak.”
It’s also true that Biden said in the same exchange that “Antifa is an idea, not an organization.” The Democratic presidential candidate deserves to be held accountable for that, but it’s not an excuse for Trump telling an extremist group to “stand by” — words that can be quickly corrected if he wants.
Trump “should have made it very clear that there is no room for either people on the far left or the far right when it comes to Antifa or these white supremacist groups. He should have been very clear,” South Dakota senator Mike Rounds tells reporters. “I was hoping for more clarity.”
Here’s the video and the transcript of the exchange:
Chris Wallace: "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down…"
Trump: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left." pic.twitter.com/4vrPocKzcu
— Axios (@axios) September 30, 2020
CHRIS WALLACE: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out Antifa and other left wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups—
DONALD TRUMP: Sure—
CHRIS WALLACE: … and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?
DONALD TRUMP: Sure, I’m willing to do that.
CHRIS WALLACE: Are you prepared specifically to do it?
JOE BIDEN: Do it
DONALD TRUMP: I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing.
CHRIS WALLACE: But what are you saying?
DONALD TRUMP: I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
CHRIS WALLACE: Well, then do it, sir.
JOE BIDEN: Say it, do it, say it.
DONALD TRUMP: You want to call them—what do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn?
CHRIS WALLACE: White supremacist and right-wing militia—
JOE BIDEN: Proud Boys—
DONALD TRUMP: Okay, Proud Boys stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s
got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing.
JOE BIDEN: He’s own FBI Director said unlike white supremacist, Antifa is an idea not an organization—
DONALD TRUMP: Oh you got to be kidding me.
JOE BIDEN: … not a militia. That’s what his FBI Director said.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, then you know what, he’s wrong.
CHRIS WALLACE: We’re done, sir. Moving onto the next… [crosstalk]
DONALD TRUMP: Antifa is bad.
JOE BIDEN: Everybody in your administration tells you the true, it’s a bad idea. You have no idea about anything.
DONALD TRUMP: You know what, Antifa is a dangerous radical group.