(NEXSTAR) – President Donald Trump again struggled to find the words to denounce white supremacy in a brief exchange during Tuesday night’s debate in Cleveland.
Mr. Trump famously said there were “very fine people on both sides” after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 that saw open anti-Semitism on the streets and a violent vehicle attack on pedestrian counter protesters that left one person dead.
During a 15-minute segment on race relations during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Wallace tackled the topic of racism asking Trump, “Are you willing tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?”
Trump responded “sure” before asking which groups Wallace wanted him to condemn.
When the Proud Boys were mentioned, Trump avoided directly answering the question instead saying, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem. This is a left wing problem.”
Trump also pitched himself as the ideal candidate for Black voters mocking Biden by saying, “This man, this man is a savior of African Americans? This man has done virtually nothing.”
The president mentioned a crime bill passed in 1994 that Biden helped write and get passed that, among other things, increased the penalties for certain drug offenses.
Trump said “I’m letting people out of jail now,” and without further supporting evidence that Biden had treated the Black community “about as bad as anybody in this country.”
Trump and Biden arrived in Cleveland hoping the debate would energize their bases of support, even as they competed for the slim slice of undecided voters who could decide the election. It has been generations since two men asked to lead a nation facing such tumult, with Americans both fearful and impatient about the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 of their fellow citizens and cost millions of jobs.
The vitriol exploded into the open when Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying that the president “waited and waited” to act when the virus reached America’s shores and “still doesn’t have a plan.” Biden told Trump to “get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap” and go in his golf cart to the Oval Office to come up with a bipartisan plan to save people.
Trump snarled a response, declaring that “I’ll tell you Joe, you could never have done the job that we did. You don’t have it in your blood.”
“I know how to do the job,” was the solemn response from Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.