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Analysis: Usually quick to comment, Trump suddenly at loss for words in response to Charlottesville

David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON--President Donald Trump built his public persona on a willingness to comment, often provocatively, on any topic, any time, wooing supporters as the one public figure who would "tell it like it is."

Saturday, faced with deadly violence during a second day of neo-Nazi marches in a quiet, Virginia college town, Trump seemed uncharacteristically tongue-tied.

As elected officials and other prominent people from across the political spectrum rushed to condemn white supremacists who marched with torches and Confederate flags in Charlottesville, Va., on Friday night, Trump remained silent. His reticence continued into Saturday, after police shut down the rally because of the violence.

Only after his wife, first lady Melania Trump, turned to Twitter for what was only her sixth comment on a public issue since the inauguration -- "let's communicate w/o hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence," she wrote -- did the president make his own initial comment.

Even then, the president's words carefully avoided naming any specific groups or assigning any blame for the situation. Nor did he mention Charlottesville, as she had.

About two hours later, after a car had plowed into a crowd of anti-Nazi counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, killing at least one person and injuring 19, Trump made a public comment at a previously scheduled appearance at his golf resort in New Jersey with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

 

The president appeared ill at ease, and again avoided any assignment of blame.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides," he said, repeating the final phrase for emphasis.

"It's been going on for a long time in our country; it's not Donald Trump, it's not Barack Obama," he added, without specifying what "it" referred to.

Trump spoke briefly, devoting much of his roughly 13 minutes in public talking about his accomplishments and shaking hands with a group of veterans. He left quickly, ignoring shouted questions from reporters about whether he considered the violence a terrorist attack.

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