Members of the Proud Boys in tactical gear at a...

Members of the Proud Boys in tactical gear at a rally Sept. 26 in Portland, Ore. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Maranie R. Staab

Off to the racists

"I've always denounced any form, any form, any form of any of that," President Donald Trump told White House reporters on Wednesday afternoon. What's "that"? It's white supremacy, and the reality is that those denunciations from Trump come only rarely, grudgingly and without the kind of elaborations that would add a plausible patina of sincerity. That happened again on Wednesday.

A president who retweets supporters who shout "white power" — he also saw "very fine people on both sides" in the aftermath of deadly racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, three years ago — is risk-averse to alienating haters within his base. Accounts of Trump's privately voiced racism are plentiful. Trump's pivot away from moderator Chris Wallace's white-supremacy question during Tuesday night's disgust-inducing debate against Joe Biden was a new cringeworthy episode for Republicans.

The lone Black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott of South Carolina, signaled to Trump on Wednesday morning that he wasn't getting a pass unless he did a cleanup. "I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it. If he doesn't correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak," Scott said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "With regard to the white supremacy issue, I want to associate myself with the remarks of Sen. Tim Scott."

Still, it didn't come easy. As Trump was heading off to campaign in Minnesota on Wednesday afternoon, a reporter asked: "White supremacists — they clearly love you and support you. Do you welcome that?" Trump responded, "I want law and order to be a very important part — it’s a very important part of my campaign," and he continued on that theme. The reporter asked twice more before Trump said he had "always denounced" the racist ideology and quickly changed the subject to Biden and antifa.

There was more fallout from Trump's debate comment — when pressed about violence from the far-right — that one such group, the Proud Boys, should "stand back and stand by."

The "stand by" part was taken as a signal that his Proud Boys fans should await a potential call to action, perhaps during the approaching election — already "rigged against him," Trump says. The president has urged masses of his backers to be poll watchers and "watch very carefully" for voter fraud, raising a peril of voter intimidation.

Trump retreated slightly on Wednesday. "I don't know who the Proud Boys are," he said. "You’ll have to give me a definition, because I really don’t know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work." And then he moved on to: "Antifa is a real problem because the problem is on the left, and Biden refuses to talk about it." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the president should "make it clear Proud Boys is a racist organization antithetical to American ideals."

Now the Proud Coffee Boys

"I don't know him/her/them" is a go-to comment from Trump and his allies about people whose past acquaintance or familiarity has become politically inconvenient. A variation was when a 2016 campaign foreign policy adviser caught up in the Russia investigation was described dismissively as "the coffee boy."

Merging the concepts, we now have the Proud Coffee Boys.

The Proud Boys is a male-only group of self-described "Western chauvinists" who seek out brawls with antifa demonstrators and leftist opponents. A member was arrested Wednesday in Portland, Oregon, on charges of pointing a firearm at another person, menacing and unlawful use of tear gas.

In 2018, police arrested several Proud Boys members and associates who fought with anti-fascists after the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, delivered a speech at New York’s Metropolitan Republican Club. Videos by McInnes, who has since split with the group, included "10 things I hate about the Jews." Another one: "I want violence. I want punching in the face. I’m disappointed in Trump supporters for not punching enough."

Proud Boys members were thrilled by Trump's debate comment, taking it as a tacit endorsement of their violent tactics, The New York Times reported.

Shut debasement door

Following Tuesday night's disgraceful chaos, the presidential debate commission said it will adopt changes "to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues" the next time Trump and Biden meet on Oct. 15.

The Associated Press reported that one possibility being discussed by the debate's overseers is to give the moderator the ability to cut off the microphone when one participant refuses to stop interrupting the other, as Trump frequently did during Biden's turns. Another option, according to The New York Times, is to penalize interruptions by giving the opponent more time.

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh denounced the effort to adjust the debate "structure" and accused the bipartisan commission of being in cahoots with the Democrat. "They’re only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night … They shouldn’t be moving the goal posts and changing the rules in the middle of the game."

Murtaugh's assessment of the president's performance wasn't shared by some other notable pro-Trump voices. "I think it was the right thing to be aggressive. But that was too hot," said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped Trump with debate prep. Observed right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh: "He had a strategy, and the strategy didn’t work. But he had a strategy. And he undermined his own strategy."

Janison: Profile in incorrigible

One striking feature of Trump’s disrespect for debate rules, and therefore for the general audience, was that it would occur in the fourth year of an incumbency, let alone the 75th year of a person's life, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Just as striking: None of the president's childish, bullying behavior on Tuesday night had anything to do with the right or the left, Republicans or Democrats, separation of powers, immigration, abortion or appointments.

The embarrassing excesses of his conduct transcend politics. Win or lose, we know by now, Trump acts like a sore loser. It was far from the first time he has treated the accepted rules of engagement — or even the laws of the nation — as just too much to comply with.

Trump’s petulant interruptions and distractions on Tuesday night — combined with his usual load of low-blow accusations, paranoid assertions and falsehoods — allowed him to avoid doing something else he resists: explain his government’s actions and policies in plain English to the people who elected him.

Election fears

Trump’s debate-stage call for volunteers to stand watch at voting locations has prompted an enthusiastic response from known neo-Nazis and right-wing activists, leading many state election and law enforcement officials to prepare for voter intimidation, arrests and even violence on Election Day, The Washington Post reports.

The campaign’s "Army for Trump" website has sought to enlist 50,000 poll watchers. Extremists are among those ready to answer the call, especially after the wink at the Proud Boys.

"I got shivers," Andrew Anglin, founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote in a post Wednesday. "I still have shivers. He is telling the people to stand by. As in: Get ready for war."

Fearing voter suppression, civil rights leaders and Democratic lawyers said Trump’s comments could lead to illegal election interference, and several state attorneys general said they were preparing to arrest anyone who tries to prevent voters from exercising their rights.

The Trump campaign dismissed accusations that it is inciting intimidation as "demagoguery."

Biden: Debate a wake-up call

On a train tour through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, Biden called Trump's debate behavior a "national embarrassment" and said the night was "a wake-up call for all Americans."

Biden said he hoped he had been able to cut through the noise and "tried to speak directly to the camera to the American people, to talk about their concerns."

His message to the Proud Boys and white supremacists: "Cease and desist."

While Biden distanced himself during the debate from some of the priorities of his party’s progressive wing, there was no sign of a blowback.

Vermont's Sen. Bernie Sanders said on ABC’s "The View" it was "terribly important" that Biden be elected.

Ex-Trump 2020 guru gunless, ghosted

A Broward County, Florida, judge on Wednesday signed off on a police request to temporarily confiscate 10 pistols, rifles and shotguns from Brad Parscale, the Miami Herald reported. The former Trump campaign manager was taken into custody Sunday and involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation after his wife said he threatened to shoot himself.

The Daily Beast reports that Trump's campaign has been purging its website of content featuring Parscale, who was kept on for Trump 2020 after he was demoted to digital-operations manager in July.

Parscale said in a statement to Politico Wednesday that he is leaving the campaign to deal with "overwhelming stress" on his family. His wife, Candice, denied that Parscale physically abused her, despite a police report that said she told authorities the contrary.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump claimed in the debate that the sheriff for Portland, Oregon, had endorsed him. False, said Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese. "I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him," Reese tweeted. He added that the president has made his job a "hell of a lot harder since he started talking about Portland."
  • Debate moderator Wallace's morning-after reflections: "I’m just sad with the way last night turned out." The Fox News host told The New York Times that he was slow to recognize that flouting the rules "was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate."
  • Moderna will not be ready to apply for emergency authorization for its potential COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, the Financial Times reported Wednesday. The company’s experimental vaccine is among the leaders in the race to develop a safe and effective shot for preventing infection.
  • A poll of South Carolina by Quinnipiac University finds Trump leading Biden by 1 point. In 2016, Trump won the state by 14 points.
  • The Vatican said on Wednesday it had denied a request from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for an audience with Pope Francis, and accused the Trump Cabinet official of trying to drag the Catholic Church into the U.S. election by denouncing its relations with China, Reuters reported.
  • Former Montana governor and Republican National Committee chair Marc Racicot endorsed Biden over Trump. He told The New York Times that Trump is "dangerous to the existence of the republic as we know it."
  • Senior U.S. officials urged Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe not to release information about a Russian intelligence product containing unverified allegations about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election, advice that Trump’s spy chief ignored, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Russian report, previously discarded by the Senate Intelligence Committee as dubious, said Clinton approved a plan to tie Trump to Moscow's hacking of Democratic emails. Democrats have accused Ratcliffe of abusing his position to try to help Trump.

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