Almost two years have passed since the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, but President Trump continues to stand by his controversial comments regarding the rally.
It was August 2017 when a group of white supremacists converged on Charlottesville for a rally that ended with a white supremacist murdering counter protester Heather Heyer. What came after that was arguably the lowest moment of President Trump’s presidency.
In the aftermath of the deadly rally, Trump’s infamous remarks that there were “very fine people on both sides” sparked outrage and condemnation across the country. More recently, his comments became the focus of former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign launch video.
Biden’s reference to the incident led Trump to double down on his response to Charlottesville and insist that he wasn’t referring to the neo-Nazi protesters, but rather those attendees who opposed the removal of the statue of the “great” Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a noted slave owner and traitor.
Despite attempts by his administration to move on from the post-Charlottesville backlash, Trump’s latest comments and the rise in white supremacist crimes over the last two years are likely to play key roles in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s latest decision to stand by his remarks prompted calls from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to clearly condemn the events in Charlottesville, where white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us” and other anti-Semitic chants.
Trump has yet to do so and has continued to play down the threat posed by white nationalists. After last month’s deadly attack on two New Zealand mosques left 49 Muslims dead, Trump said he did not believe that white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, instead saying they were “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”
This past weekend saw another hate crime when a gunman stormed a synagogue in Poway, California, killed one person and injured three others. After the shooting, President Trump denounced anti-Semitism and hate crimes at his rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Saturday night.
The shooting in Poway continues the sharp surge in hate crimes that have been committed during President Trump’s time in office. According to the ADL, 39 of the 50 extremist-related murders committed in 2018 were carried out by white supremacists, a sharp increase from 2017, when white supremacists were responsible for 18 of 34 such crimes.
This rise in hate crimes has prompted many 2020 candidates, including Biden, to call Trump out on the issue and address it head on going into 2020. Indeed, even some Republicans view Trump’s lackluster responses to hate crimes and his searing rhetoric as a political liability.
In Virginia, the political impacts of the Charlottesville rally were quickly felt. Trump’s approval rating dropped after his response, and activists rallied to help elect 15 more Democrats to the House of Delegates, including 11 women and legislators who are African-American, Asian-American, Latino-American, immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community.
2018 saw a similar trend nationwide, as Democrats picked up 40 seats in the House of Representatives and elected the most diverse slate of candidates in history.
It remains to be seen what the impact is in 2020, but so long as Trump stands by his response to Charlottesville and fails to seriously address white supremacist crimes, it’s an issue that is likely to remain front and center.