President Donald Trump’s attempt on Tuesday to backpedal on his disastrous remarks siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the stone-faced president read from a monotone prepared statement but deviated several times from it, was eerily reminiscent of the way he handled his infamous false equivalence in response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer.
After accepting Putin’s denial instead of affirming U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump on Tuesday tried to reverse course. Reading from prepared remarks, he said that he accepts the intelligence agencies’ conclusion and claimed that he misspoke during Monday’s press conference. (He added that perhaps “other people” were responsible, and reverted to his usual talking point that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, which appeared to be unscripted.)
“He was on good behavior for a day [and] then he switched back again,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Capitol Hill reporters on Tuesday, comparing the president’s attempted do-over to his Charlottesville remarks.
Many reporters, commentators and other political observers made similar observations, noting that Trump could quickly reverse himself again, just as he did in his response to the events in Charlottesville.
Last August, Trump similarly garnered universal condemnation when he blamed “many sides” for the violence caused by white supremacist, neo-Nazi and KKK groups.
Two days later, he walked back the comments by finally denouncing the hate groups.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence,” Trump said, reading from a statement. “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But it didn’t last.
The next day, in a head-spinning press conference at Trump Tower that was meant to be about infrastructure, he doubled down on his original comments, essentially taking back his denunciation and suggesting that some of the white nationalists were “very fine people.”
“You had a group on one side who was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now,” Trump said. “You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.”
“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides,” he added.
Instead of settling the issue, Trump poured gasoline on the fire.
While Charlottesville is the closest analogue, Trump has continually responded to controversies of his own making by suggesting that he would give some kind of a mea culpa — and then creating another disaster.
During his presidential run, his campaign suggested that he planned to put to rest his long-standing conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
In September 2016, he held a press conference where he was slated to address the issue.
“President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period,” he said.
Then, he falsely blamed opponent Hillary Clinton for originating the birtherism movement.
Even Trump’s claim on Tuesday that he simply misspoke or didn’t mean what he said is a tactic that he has tried before.
In 2015, he notoriously attacked then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly, moderator of a GOP presidential debate, by claiming that she had “blood coming out of her ... wherever,” which many speculated was a reference to menstruation.
He later claimed that “I was going to say ‘ears’ or ‘nose.’”