President Trump said Wednesday that he is “totally opposed to domestic violence.” He also suggested that he shouldn't have had to say so.
“Everyone knows that,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “And it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know it.”
In the week since Rob Porter resigned as White House staff secretary, amid accusations of abuse from two ex-wives, the president's spokesmen have insisted the public shouldn't have to “hear it” from Trump himself.
On Monday, for example, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a media briefing that “above all, the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.”
Asked why Trump hadn't said anything similar in person or on Twitter, Sanders said, “I'm the spokesperson for the White House and for the president, and I'm saying it to you right now.”
“He literally dictated that statement to me,” she added, “and so I'm not really sure how that's not the president speaking on that topic.”
Sanders repeated herself when questioned Tuesday.
“Again, the president dictated to me specifically that comment yesterday, which I read out to you guys,” she said.
White House spokesmen might wish that their word were as good as the president's, but even Trump's friends at “Fox & Friends” were unsatisfied by a secondhand denunciation of domestic abuse.
“Why won't he say that publicly?” Brian Kilmeade asked deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley on Monday.
“Well,” Gidley replied, “I don't know if he's going to say that publicly or not, and I have not spoken with he president about this. ... The president has been very clear that all forms of abuse, all forms of battery against women are deplorable and disgusting.”
“He hasn't said that,” Kilmeade countered.
All Trump had said at that point was this:
“Hogan,” Ainsley Earhardt asked later, “will you and Sarah Huckabee Sanders — will y'all get together and maybe advise him and talk to him about this is an opportunity when he can come out against domestic violence?”
Perhaps Gidley and Sanders did just that. Or, two days later, maybe Trump tired of persistent questions about his silence.
In any case, the president needed to speak for himself, because he has shown over and over that he is the only one who really can. He routinely casts doubt on the authority of those who purport to speak for him — or flat-out contradicts them.
Last month, for example, Sanders told reporters that Trump supported reauthorization of a federal surveillance program. The next morning, Trump sent a rather unsupportive tweet, after a Fox News commentator urged him to reconsider.
Trump ultimately got back on board with the surveillance program after an intervention by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.
When Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, Sanders told reporters that the president had acted on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. Trump then told NBC that he had decided to fire Comey “regardless of recommendation.”
Even if Trump's spokesmen always represented his positions accurately, it would be reasonable to expect the president to directly address an issue as serious as domestic violence. And it is worth noting that in his remarks on Wednesday, he still did not say whether he believes Porter's accusers, despite being asked.