As I walked into the Oval Office July 8, President Donald Trump was going over new polls, some internal, some not, showing him tied or leading Joe Biden in key swing states. “Pennsylvania tied. Florida, up one. Wisconsin, up one. Texas, up five. Arizona, Trump 49, Biden 45; North Carolina, Trump up three. And then Montana: Trump up a lot – 52-38,” he said.
While some in the Republican Party may be panicking over other polls showing an uphill climb for reelection, the president remains confident. “I haven’t really even started to campaign yet,” he said, adding: “Now, campaigning’s a little bit tough because of the coronavirus. This thing, what China did to us, is just unbelievable. We were sailing, it was unstoppable. And then, this happened. And it’s (a) shame, but now (we’ve) got to go back to work. But I think we’re doing really well.”
Our conversation turned to negative media coverage of his speech at Mount Rushmore on July 3. The speech, he said, “was actually not dark, it was the opposite of dark.” “What’s dark is the other side. … They’re trying to take everything down. And I think they’re crazy, but I also think they’re evil. … And I can’t believe that there’s not more pushback. …”
During his speech, Trump praised Abraham Lincoln for winning the Civil War and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and called slavery an “evil institution.” So why is Trump so adamant about defending Confederate memorials? “Oh, I’m not,” he says. “But I am adamant about defending the past. It’s part of our history. … They’re taking down everything, and they call it ‘cancel culture.’ I don’t think it’s a beautiful term, but it’s actually very descriptive. … They want to cancel everything. They want to cancel the good and the bad. They started off by canceling things that were controversial, and I actually said years ago. … ‘Well, does that mean George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are next?’ And it turns out that they are. …”
Critics conflate his criticism of mobs tearing down statues with criticism of the racial justice movement. So, I asked: Do you support the peaceful protests? “Peaceful protests for racial justice? Absolutely. Peaceful protests, period.” (But) “you had people that were far-left radical maniacs, they were anarchists, and they were agitators, and you also had other people that were there and they didn’t know what they were doing. They got caught up. …”
He believes his tough response has tamped down the violence. “In Minneapolis, after a number of days of watching that fiasco, I demanded that the National Guard be sent in,” he said. “And as soon as they were in … they showed up, they lined up in the street, they walked through like butter being cut by a knife, and it all ended. It was over.”
Trump also contends the Black Lives Matter movement preaches violence against the police. “You take a look at the people running it, they’re Marxists, they’re people you don’t want,” he said. “And yet, they become almost like this wonderful group of people. And you look at what happened with the riots, and you look at all of the things that have happened, I think it’s a very, very divisive group. …”
I pointed out millions of Americans have marched peacefully since the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, and that most are not for the cancel culture or violence against police, but they want racial justice. “I do too,” Trump interrupted.
Trump also says he has no love for the Confederacy. “I’m against it. It was my opponent. I was born in New York, I’m against it. … I am a Yankee. But I also believe in free speech, and I believe in history. You can’t erase history. If you erase it, you’re going to repeat it.” The president’s concern, he said, is if you give in to the cancel culture, where does it end? “You take out the Confederate? Okay, good. Then they’re going to take out all opposition to the Confederates. … I’ve seen them rip down statues [of] abolitionists. It will never stop.”
What about the military posts and bases named for Confederate generals? … “I consider that a very different thing,” he said. “The interesting thing, the bases were named after, long after the war. And they were named as a reconciliation to bring our country together. And then, all of a sudden, they cancel them out. Now, I’m not defending or judging any of the names because most of the names – you know Fort Bragg, but nobody knows who General Bragg is. But we won two world wars from these forts. … Is anyone just a little superstitious? … And who are we going to name them after?”
… Trump is absolutely right to fight back against the cancel culture. And his message will resonate more than many in Washington realize. … “I could say … ‘I’m against everything, I’m totally in favor of all of the hate.’ – The real hate is not the hate from me. The real hate is the hate from the other side on many of the things that we talk about.”
“Maybe I’m a voice in the wilderness,” he said, “but most people agree with me. And many won’t say it, and they might not even say it in a poll, but I think they’ll say it in an election.”
(This column has been trimmed for space.)