Opinion writer
Using dozens of clips from President Trump's speeches, The Post Editorial Board reimagines his disastrous Aug. 12 address. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Now that President Trump has reverted to his earlier position that “many sides” are to blame for the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, the dismay of senior people very close to him is suddenly getting smuggled out to the rest of the world, as if by magic. We are told that Gary Cohn, a top economic adviser to the White House, was “disgusted” and “upset.” We learn that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been urging moderation. We are informed that Trump’s top aides were “stunned” by Trump’s comments, and that new chief of staff John F. Kelly was “very frustrated” by them.

At yesterday’s presser, the president adamantly defended his original statement that the fault lies with bigotry on “many sides” and reiterated that “there’s blame on both sides” for what happened. He said that the rallying white supremacists and Nazis had been treated “unfairly” by the media, and that there “were very fine people on both sides.” No doubt, many of the top officials around Trump are deeply disturbed or horrified by all of this.

President Trump on Aug. 15 said that "there's blame on both sides" for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

But this leaked dismay is undercut by an inconvenient fact: The White House subsequently circulated a set of talking points that doubled down on Trump’s comments, in effect confirming them as the official White House position. The Weekly Standard posted the talking points, and here are the key ones:

  • The President was entirely correct — both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility.
  • Despite the criticism, the President reaffirmed some of our most important Founding principles: We are equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal under the law, and equal under our Constitution.
  • He has been a voice for unity and calm, encouraging the country to “rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that brings us together as Americans.”…
  • The President condemned the hate groups fueled by bigotry and racism over the weekend, and did so by name yesterday, but for the media that will never be enough.

This is nothing but a contemptible effort to defend the indefensible, and everyone around Trump — with the exception, perhaps, of Stephen K. Bannon — knows it. The White House’s official position is that Trump was correct in dividing the blame between (on one side) white supremacists, Nazis and Klansmen, and (on the other) those protesting their racism, hatred and belief in the inferiority of African Americans, Jews and other minorities.

Yet, despite this, the White House talking points also tell us that Trump reaffirmed our ideals of equality. It is true that Trump yesterday mouthed words of condemnation for “hatred” and “bigotry.” But then Trump — whose campaign relentlessly demonized Muslims and Latino immigrants for at least a year straight — promptly demolished his own expression of censure by suggesting that those sentiments are divided between the racists and those appalled by their virulent racism, or that this racism is not fully to blame for the outbreak of deadly violence. This suggestion will only further embolden white supremacist groups, as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) expressed well:

And so, the notion that Trump has been a “voice for unity and calm,” as the White House talking points tell us, is the opposite of the truth. Trump may have made continued racial strife and violence — and perhaps more deaths of innocents — more likely, not less. By the way, Trump also seemed to defend the rally-goers’ opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, asking rhetorically whether this would ultimately lead to the removal of statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As The Post’s editorial board points out, Trump deliberately blurred the moral line between the removal of statues that were explicitly erected as monuments to white supremacy, and ones that weren’t. This, too, will likely further embolden white supremacist groups.

In this context, the professed, anonymously-leaked dismay from top officials takes on much more significance. Experts in extremist activity also predict Trump’s response to Charlottesville will further embolden white supremacist groups; those groups themselves say that they are emboldened; and more rallies are planned, which will serve as a test for the staying power of their movement. Yesterday, Trump gave these groups more reason than ever to feel energized — and the White House has flatly reiterated that Trump’s comments were “entirely correct.”

This is the White House these officials work for and have associated themselves with. Leaked murmurs of trepidation from them will achieve zero distance from it or from Trump’s racism and veiled lending of succor to escalating white supremacist activity. And they will be further stained by all that is to come.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Aug. 16 said "it is a dishonor to our country's veterans to allow the Nazis and the white supremacists to go unchallenged." (The Washington Post)

* ANOTHER POLL FINDS TRUMP’S APPROVAL IN THE TOILET: A new Marist poll finds Trump’s approval at a low point of 35 percent. Note this:

When it comes to his signature slogan, “Make America Great Again,” only 36 percent of Americans say the president is winning compared with 59 percent who characterize him as losing. 75 percent of Republicans believe the president is making good on this campaign promise compared with 10 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independents.

That three quarters of Republicans may well continue believing Trump is Making America Great Again no matter how low this presidency sinks.

* TRUMP RAGES AT UNFAIR MEDIA TREATMENT OF HIM: Trump again backslid to blaming “many sides” for Charlottesville yesterday, erasing his Monday statement, and the New York Times reports on what happened in the interim:

No sooner had he delivered the Monday statement than he began railing privately to his staff about the news media. He fumed to aides about how unfairly he was being treated, and expressed sympathy with nonviolent protesters who he said were defending their “heritage,” according to a West Wing official. He felt he had already given too much ground to his opponents, the official said.

This is largely about Trump not wanting to be seen capitulating to the media. It’s hard to disentangle the racism from the megalomania.

* TRUMP AIDES STOOD BY ‘HELPLESSLY’: The Associated Press adds this profoundly worrisome reporting about Trump’s backslide to blaming “many sides”:

Trump cannot be managed by others or steered away from damaging political land mines. His top aides were stunned by his comments, with some — including new chief of staff John Kelly — standing by helplessly as the president escalated his rhetoric. … As Trump talked, his aides on the sidelines in the lobby stood in silence. … Kelly crossed his arms and stared down at his shoes, barely glancing at the president.

Kelly probably had no illusions going in that Trump’s behavior could be changed, and just hoped to install a process that might contain him. It isn’t working.

* IS TRUMP AFRAID TO FIRE BANNON? At yesterday’s presser, Trump was asked about his confidence in Bannon, and he said, “we’ll see.” Reuters reports on what might be going on:

“The president obviously is very nervous and afraid of firing him,” a source close to the White House told Reuters. The source floated the possibility that Bannon could be demoted instead of fired, noting that he might turn into a harsh critic of the administration if he is forced out of the inner circle.

This is not very strong sourcing, but this seems at least plausible as a motive, since Bannon could presumably rally the Breitbart mob against Trump. It bears watching.

* REPORT: BANNON WAS ‘PROUD’ OF TRUMP’S PERFORMANCE: Bloomberg reports:

While some on the White House staff were alarmed by the fallout from the president’s remarks Tuesday, others said they blamed the media for overblown coverage. A source close to Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, said he was proud of the president’s performance Tuesday.

With calls for Bannon’s ouster escalating, one imagines this will be the subject of further reporting in coming days.

* TRUMP IS LYING ABOUT THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE: Trump has taken to saying that under him, “unemployment is at a record low.” Glenn Kessler brings the facts:

The unemployment rate in July was 4.3 percent. It was 4.8 percent in January, when Trump took office, so it was already rather low. Moreover, six of the past 12 presidents could brag of an unemployment rate lower than 4.3 percent. It was as low as 4.2 percent under George W. Bush, 3.9 percent under Bill Clinton, 4.2 percent under Richard Nixon, 3.4 percent under Lyndon B. Johnson, 2.5 percent under Dwight D. Eisenhower and 2.7 percent under Harry Truman.

Yes, but in all those other cases, the unemployment rate was #FakeNews. Remember when Sean Spicer debased himself by actually saying something like this?

* AND IT’S TIME FOR … ANOTHER RALLY!!! NPR’s Tamara Keith reports that Trump is set to hold a rally next Tuesday in Arizona.

The cascading cheers that will rain down on Trump will of course confirm that the American people are fully behind his refusal to full-throatedly condemn Nazis and white supremacists and that all the criticism is just so much #FakeNews.