Trump defends Charlottesville response, lashes out at critics at combative campaign rally; protesters clash with police

The Associated Press

(Via ABC News)

In the face of swirling controversies and political infighting, and after a formal address Monday in which he expressed hope the country would find the inspiration to “unify” and “heal,” President Donald Trump struck a hostile and defiant tone for the bulk of a campaign rally in Arizona Tuesday evening. Trump railed against his critics and the media as he continued to defend his response to last week’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After pledging to the audience inside the Phoenix Convention Center that he was “fully committed to fighting for our agenda” and would “not stop until the job is done,” the president used much of his time recounting his actions in the wake of the white nationalist rally that left one woman dead in central Virginia.

Trump assigned much of the blame to the “dishonest people in the media” whom he portrayed as having unfairly covered his condemnation of the “hatred, bigotry and violence” in Charlottesville — a denunciation he delivered the day of the rally, while also saying blame was present “on many sides.”

The president’s detractors accused him of being slow to specifically identify the hate groups that contributed to the clashes, recognition that eventually arrived in a speech two days after the rally, as Trump pointed out Tuesday.

“I hit them with ‘neo-Nazi.’ I hit them with everything,” said Trump. “I got the ‘white supremacists,’ the ‘neo-Nazi.’ I got them all in there. Let’s see. KKK, we have KKK.

“I got them all,” he added.

But Trump avoided mention of a combative press conference last Wednesday that amounted to a third review of the events in Charlottesville. Facing questions from reporters at the time, the president largely doubled down on his original address, assigning “blame” for the incident to “both sides.”

The event Tuesday night came after Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton expressed his disappointment in Trump’s decision to hold a rally organized by his presidential campaign committee following the incident in Charlottesville and appealed that it be postponed.

“I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville,” Stanton said in a statement on August 16. “It is my hope that more sound judgment prevails and that he delays his visit.”

But the rally went as planned, with protesters gathered in the city’s sweltering heat before Trump arrived Tuesday, a fact the president downplayed once behind the lectern.

“There aren’t too many people outside protesting,” Trump told the convention center crowd at the start of his speech, although ABC’s Alex Stone on the scene estimated there were 5,000 to 10,000 protesters on hand who clashed with police after Trump’s rally.

Eventually moving on from Charlottesville, Trump spoke of issues of local importance in Arizona, including illegal immigration and the status of his long-promised border wall. The president also addressed former Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt in July.

Trump previously said he was “considering a pardon,” though the White House denied it would be announced during the rally earlier Thursday, a claim that the president abided by.

“Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?” asked Trump of the man whose hard line approach to the detention of undocumented immigrants earned him national notoriety.

“I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine, OK?” he continued. “But, I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that OK? … But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

The president further issued veiled complaints about the decision of Arizona Sen. John McCain to cast his vote against a Senate attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — an effort that ultimately fell one vote short.

“We were just one vote away from victory after seven years of everybody proclaiming ‘repeal and replace,'” said Trump. “One vote away.

“I will not mention any names,” he added. “Very presidential, isn’t it? Very presidential.”