“As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure,” the answer read. “As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office the next day, Trump was asked whether he saw white supremacism like that apparently embraced by the New Zealand shooter as a rising threat globally.
“I don’t really,” Trump said. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
This was by no means the first time that Trump has downplayed the threat of white nationalism. After a white-nationalist demonstrator drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville in 2017, Trump gave a speech criticizing racism — but only after saying that blame for the violence rested on both sides, and also saying that the largely white-nationalist and neo-Nazi demonstrators included “some very fine people.”
A Washington Post-ABC poll conducted shortly afterward found that most respondents thought Trump was equating the neo-Nazis and their supporters with anti-Nazi demonstrators.
After the New Zealand shooting and Trump’s response, Pew Research Center asked a broader question: Did Americans think that Trump had done enough to distance himself from white-nationalist groups?
More than half said Trump had done too little — including a quarter of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
Those numbers were remarkably similar to what Quinnipiac University found in November. The pollsters asked Americans whether they believed that Trump’s decisions and behaviors broadly had encouraged white supremacist groups.
Again, 56 percent of respondents said that he had encouraged white supremacist groups, while only 3 percent said he had discouraged them. Nearly a fifth of Republicans (here excluding independents) agreed that he encouraged them.
Quinnipiac went further, asking those who said they believed Trump had encouraged white supremacists whether they thought he had done so deliberately or accidentally.
Thirty-five percent of respondents said that Trump encouraged white supremacists and did so deliberately. Only among Republicans who thought Trump encouraged the groups did more people think it was accidental than intentional.
There have been a slew of moments during Trump’s presidency when questions have been raised about his feelings about race. Last month, his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress and offered a number of examples of times that Trump had said racist things in his presence.
In February 2018, the Associated Press and NORC released a poll finding that most people thought Trump was himself a racist — including more than 8 in 10 black respondents.
There’s a consistency to White House comments after questions about Trump’s responses to violence and threats, including racist ones: How many times do we have to denounce these things?
If Pew’s poll is any guide, more than it is.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.