Taking to Twitter ahead of a controversial “Unite the Right 2” white supremacist rally Sunday in Washington, Trump decried the “senseless death and division” spawned by what he called the “riots in Charlottesville.” A counterprotester was killed when a man who police say identified himself as a Nazi drove a car into a crowd.
“I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence,” Trump wrote. “Peace to ALL Americans!”
The remarks stood in stark contrast to Trump’s reaction a year ago — when he declared that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville — and followed a week of racially incendiary statements by the president and allies. Trump insulted the intelligence of NBA star LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon, both of whom are black, reignited his crusade against black football players protesting police brutality and told a group of business leaders that Chinese students studying in the United States were spies.
One of the few African Americans to have worked in the White House, former special assistant Omarosa Manigault Newman, also accuses Trump of being a racist in a book to be released Tuesday. During a “Bikers for Trump” event here in Bedminster on Saturday, the president told reporters that Manigault Newman was a “lowlife.”
Trump — who kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015 by labeling Mexicans illegally present in the United States as criminals and “rapists” — has repeatedly used racial and ethnic differences as political wedges, rarely attempting to bridge cultural differences as Barack Obama and other predecessors did.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement Saturday that Trump shares responsibility for the violence in Charlottesville.
“These purveyors of hate and bigotry were emboldened to take their message public by a President who has refused to categorically and unequivocally condemn their message and actions in clear terms,” Warner wrote.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, now running for the U.S. Senate from Utah, said in an essay published Friday that he disagreed with Trump’s declaration that many “good people” had taken part on the white nationalist side of the Charlottesville event. “People who knowingly march under the Nazi banner have disqualified themselves as ‘good people,’ ” Romney wrote.
On his attacks on black athletes, cable news personalities or members of Congress, Trump allies argue that he is merely swinging back at opponents when provoked. White House aides also say Trump loves the attack on National Football League players kneeling for the national anthem and seeks out reasons and stories to tweet about it.
“He’s not, in my view, a racist by any stretch of the imagination,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who was critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign but has become a staunch ally. “I have never heard him make a single racist statement. Not even close.”
Graham, who spent considerable time at Bedminster over the past week, added: “It is how you react to him. It is not the color of your skin, it is not the content of your character. It is what you say about him.”
Trump’s political base is overwhelmingly white and older, and he won the 2016 presidential election in part by rallying white voters who do not have college degrees. The perceived erosion of former cultural and economic touchstones — the American flag, the steel and mining industries — were mainstays of his campaign. Immigration, which Trump has called a “disaster,” and the wall he wants to build on the Mexican border are among his most consistent themes. He counts few minorities among his top advisers or friends.
Christopher Malone, a political-science professor and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Molloy College, said Trump’s racially charged outbursts are part of a calculated effort to appeal to whites, especially those with a sense of cultural grievance, and is best expressed through his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“These are intentional acts, even though people may not see the rhyme or reason to it,” Malone said.
Race is a frequent subtext of Trump’s most prominent crusades, including his long-running feud with black NFL players and his anger at James, who told Lemon in a recent interview that Trump uses sports “to divide us.”
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do,” Trump wrote on Twitter at 11:37 p.m. on Aug. 3, his first full day here at his New Jersey golf resort.
In a private dinner at his Bedminster club with business executives a few days later, Trump asserted that “almost every student” from China studying in the United States is a spy. And in a pair of tweets on Friday, Trump revived his periodic criticism of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial profiling and police brutality.
“Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!” he tweeted.
Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a reliable Trump defender whose hard-line views on immigration mirror Trump’s, also stoked her own racial controversy in the past week when she declared that “the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore,” citing legal and illegal immigration. She later said the comments “had nothing to do with race or ethnicity.”
Manigault Newman calls Trump a “racist, misogynist and bigot” in her memoir and claims, without providing evidence, that there is a recording of Trump using the n-word. She writes that Trump used the slur when he hosted “The Apprentice” reality show, where she and Trump first encountered each other.
The White House has dismissed the book as “riddled with lies and false accusations” but has not addressed specifics.
Trump has stayed quiet about this weekend’s planned demonstration by potentially hundreds of white nationalists at Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. He will remain in New Jersey on Sunday.
Trump, several current and former aides said, does not use racial slurs in private or make comments that demean minorities among his aides. Instead, they said, he brags about the record-low African American unemployment rate and talks about what he is doing for black Americans.
But, aides say, he often talks about what his supporters will think of racially tinged issues. After The Washington Post reported that Trump had questioned why the United States was admitting people from “shithole countries” in Africa and Latin America, he decided not to push back against the story because he was not convinced it was a political negative for him, according to aides who spoke with him at the time.
One of Trump’s frequent targets for attack is Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a black congresswoman whom Trump singled out again during a campaign rally last weekend to boost an Ohio House candidate.
“Maxine, she’s a real beauty, Maxine,” Trump said in Lewis Center, Ohio, during his only out-of-town foray from his Bedminster retreat. “A seriously low I.Q. person. Seriously.”
On Friday, Trump gave a nod to one prominent black supporter, the rapper Kanye West, tweeting that he is “willing to tell the TRUTH.”
“One new and great FACT — African American unemployment is the lowest ever recorded in the history of our Country,” Trump tweeted. “So honored by this. Thank you Kanye for your support. It is making a big difference!”
But Trump’s racially charged statements continued to draw backlash.
“Guy who won the presidential election . . . how about we get a statement on the “unite the right” rally 2 being held in DC this weekend . . . a yr after the first one in Charlottesville???” tweeted New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. “Only way to say it. What a Goober.”
Kim and Dawsey reported from Washington.