What would possess the president of the United States, after he finally called out white supremacists Monday, to return a day later to the flimsy position that attracted so much criticism in the first place? Part of the answer is that he hates the media and just can't stand to give reporters what they want — or admit that he was wrong.
Take it from someone who knows President Trump pretty well.
“I think there's — it's almost like a counterintuitive thing with him, as it relates to the media,” former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci told Stephen Colbert on Monday's “Late Show.” “The media's expecting him to do something; he sometimes does the exact opposite.”
Scaramucci shared his insight before Trump doubled down Tuesday on remarks he delivered over the weekend, when white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville clashed with counterprotesters. Though it was a Nazi sympathizer who drove a car into a crowd, killing one and injuring 19 others, the president reiterated his position that “both sides” were to blame for the violence while speaking at an impromptu news conference at Trump Tower in New York.
Colbert seemed dumbfounded by the notion that Trump's disdain for the media could drive him to take such an offensive and politically ill-advised stance.
“Just to thumb his nose at them?” the comedian asked Scaramucci. “Wait a second. You're saying that he does something to do the opposite of what is expected of him?”
Scaramucci shrugged. “But some of that worked during the campaign,” he replied.
In a way, the Scaramucci explanation lets Trump off too easily. To suggest that the president went soft on white supremacists just to mess with the media is to assume that he doesn't really sympathize with their racist beliefs.
As Hillary Clinton said during the campaign, when asked whether she considers Trump a racist, it is difficult to “know what's in his heart.” But if it cannot be said with certainty that Trump harbors racist sentiments, then it also cannot be said with certainty, based on the evidence, that he does not. His contempt for the media is not a pass for drawing a moral equivalence between white supremacists and the people who rallied to oppose them.
Contempt for the press is, however, ruining Trump's judgment. Whatever he truly believes, the president made an unforced error Tuesday by again spreading blame for the violence in Charlottesville. No adviser would recommend such a move. I mean that literally.
Trump was not scheduled to answer reporters' questions in New York. The Washington Post's Ashley Parker and David Nakamura reported that the president's decision to engage — angrily — with the press “caught senior aides watching from the lobby by surprise.”
The New York Times's Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman reported that “members of the president's staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private.”
This was Trump, furious at the media, freelancing in self-destructive fashion.