Trump Aides Nix Idea Of Going To Charlottesville

"Why the hell would we do that?" --- White House official.

Trump Shrug 2

President Trump’s aides are shooting down any idea that he would be visiting Charlottesville in the wake of last weekend’s hate rally and violence:

President Donald Trump does not have plans to visit Charlottesville, Virginiain the wake of the the white-supremacist and neo-Nazi gathering that took place in the city over the weekend.

“No stop planned at this time,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emailed The Daily Beast on Monday afternoon.

The president is still technically on vacation, though he decamped back to Washington D.C. on Monday.

Though presidents are often hypersensitive towards appearing to be on top of national crises, it is not entirely surprising that the president is currently passing on a trip to Charlottesville. On Monday, Trump finally, and specifically, called out white supremacists and white nationalists in prepared remarks from the White House, after days of brutal, bipartisan criticism for his initial, response that chided “many sides.” Two senior Trump aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, had earlier told The Daily Beast that there was no serious sign that West Wing staffers were even exploring a Charlottesville visit at this point.

“Why the hell would we do that?” one White House official bluntly said, stating that whatever the president did in Charlottesville at this stage would be “used against” him by critics and media voices. The official also conceded that it was unlikely that this president would be able to deliver rousing, healing oratory that is demanded in such a dire situation. Trump, the fear went, could potentially worsen matters by being there.

The decision not to visit Charlottesville stands somewhat in stark contrast to past Presidential behavior in the wake of tragedy and points out the extent to which this President is either unable to take on the symbolic role that being President has thrust upon him, or is simply uninterested in doing so. In the past, Presidents ranging back at least to President Reagan and, more recently, Presidents Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama, would visit the site of a natural or man-made tragedy that occurred on their watch as President, or alternatively would attend any memorial service that might be held in connection with such an event. The most well-known of these visits, of course, would be President George W. Bush’s appearance at Ground Zero in New York City just three days after the twin tower of the World Trade Center were brought down by terrorists who flew passenger jets into them on September 11, 2001. By contrast, Bush’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina was seen by many as a low point in his Presidency and, in some sense, the beginning of the point where he began losing the support and esteem of the public that he had gained in the wake of the September 11th attacks. President Clinton made similar appearances during his Presidency, and President Obama did so on many occasions, perhaps most memorably in the wake of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the murder of nine people at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Traditionally, a Presidential visit on such occasions is seen as both a sign of respect for the victims and their families and part of the role that has been thrust upon American Presidents in which they have become the source of trying to unite the country in the face of a tragedy that has national implications or reverberations.

As Politico points out, this is just one example of how the Trump White House seems to have a messaging problem  when it comes to events such as this:

President Donald Trump has mastered the art of the swaggering politician, but when tragedy strikes, he has struggled to find his footing.

By projecting the persona of a chin-out American leader eager to punch first and deal with the consequences later, Trump is missing the softer touch that past presidents have effectively used to bring the country together in times of crisis.


Trump’s initial wavering was seen by critics as a political nod to a base of supporters who helped lift the Republican last November to the White House. It also reflected something seen throughout Trump’s presidency: His natural instinct has been to respond with force to terrible events, saving the compassion for his surrogates or private interactions.

“He’s missing an empathy gene. It’s just not natural to him,” said former George W. Bush White House speechwriter Peter Wehner. “When people who don’t have empathy try to fake it, it doesn’t come across very well.”

Trump’s difficulty in dealing with national tragedies — particularly those that are racially charged — is not new. He was uncharacteristically silent in the immediate aftermath of the February killing of an Indian immigrant in Kansas that was investigated as a hate crime, as well as the fatal stabbing in May of two men defending a Muslim woman riding a commuter train in Portland, Oregon.

As a presidential candidate, Trump’s responses to tragedies struck many as tone deaf. He tweeted “appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” after a gunman killed 49 people in June 2016 at a gay Orlando nightclub in an ISIS-inspired attack. Trump was also quick to label an explosion last September in New York City, in which no one was harmed, as terrorism before authorities had confirmed the nature of the attack.

White House aides note Trump has a compassionate side that may not come across in public but is routinely on display for those who know him well. They cite his decision in April to launch 59 cruise missiles in Syria after seeing photos of children dying after President Bashar Assad’s government attacked them with chemical weapons, as well as his invitation to the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen to attend his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Trump also spent two hours this spring visiting wounded soldiers at a suburban Washington military hospital, signing baseballs, taking pictures and talking with the service members about their favorite restaurants.

“He goes out of his way to help people in the moments you least expect,” said White House adviser Hope Hicks. “He doesn’t often publicize these moments, which makes them all the more genuine.”

Trump also received plaudits from Democrats and Republicans alike for the temperament he displayed in June after a gunman opened fire on GOP members of Congress during a morning baseball practice. Speaking in the Diplomatic Room at the White House hours after that attack, which sent House Majority Whip Steve Scalise to the hospital in critical condition, Trump made a plea for national unity.

Still, by most accounts, Trump has fallen far short of modern presidents who have taken on the role of grief-counselor-in-chief in the wake of national tragedies.

“He’s been dismal at unifying the country,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “In the wake of Charlottesville, people were waiting with bated breath that he might have a Reagan or Obama moment and pull us together, but instead he seemed to go back into self-promotion of his economy and a limp — at best — statement about the deaths and refusing to talk about white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

Brinkley, like several others from both sides of the political aisle, noted the unusual circumstances of Trump initially declining to verbally confront the white supremacists behind Saturday’s violence in Virginia given the president’s apparent glee in targeting everyone from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cable news host Mika Brzezinski.


“This is kind of more of a John Wayne presidency,” Republican consultant Alex Castellanos said of the Trump White House. “Donald Trump will be able to stand on a pile of rubble like George W. Bush did and make sure our adversaries hear us. He won’t be the president who feels our pain.”

Trump, Castellanos added, is leading a “guy’s presidency.”

“And I think that’s part of why at times you see him reluctant to reveal his more feminine, nourishing, care-giving side, because he doesn’t have one. He was elected to bring order to a world that’s spinning out of control. Voters chose strength. Not compassion.”

Democrats see Trump’s handling of recent tragedies as missed opportunities — a selfish political calculation to speak to his base rather than respond in a way that can bring the country together.

“I think Trump’s severe narcissism has prevented him from developing any sense of empathy, which is a requirement for any good leader, and particularly a president,” said former Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau.

“When it takes the president of the United States three days to condemn racism and the KKK, it’s not unreasonable to wonder exactly how sincere he’s being,” added David Litt, another former Obama White House speechwriter.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that if Trump didn’t believe he could handle the largely symbolic, albeit not unimportant, aspects of being President then perhaps he should not have run for the office to begin with. For better or for worse, part of the job of being a modern President includes this ‘consoler in chief’ aspect that has become part of the job in the media age. In addition to being adept at the use of modern methods of communications to sell their agenda, as Franklin Roosevelt did with radio and Ronald Reagan did with television, Presidents need to be able to know how to use their office and those modes of communication to unite the nation in the face of national tragedy quite simply because the public has come to expect it from the office. When it’s absent, as it largely has been during these first six months of the Trump Presidency, that absence becomes noteworthy and it becomes inevitable that the President’s failure to succeed in those areas would have an impact on things such as their job approval and their personal favorability.

To be completely frank about it, there’s a better than even chance that any attempt by Trump to appear in Charlottesville would backfire in any case. The local community that turned out in protest against the Nazi and alt-right groups that turned out to rally around the city’s statue honoring Robert E. Lee would likely not appreciate the move, and his presence would likely lead to counter-protesters and negative press coverage. Not even considering the possibility of such a visit, and indeed explicitly rejecting it as the comment from unnamed White House officials indicate an abdication of Presidential responsibility and a callousness that speaks volumes about the man that Donald Trump is, and it isn’t anything remotely positive.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Facebones says:

    Trump’s concept of empathy starts and ends with himself. “Don’t you know this makes me upset?” Even the smallest gesture of humanity is beyond him.

  2. CSK says:

    In a related matter, a fourth executive has resigned from Trump’s manufacturing council. Trump went into a Twitter rage, calling these people “grandstanders.” Talk about pots and kettles.

  3. reid says:

    It’s not just consoling and uniting the nation in the wake of tragedy, it’s about appealing to the best in us. Most presidents have been very good at it, because it’s easy; denouncing racism, etc., shouldn’t be difficult. Even Bush defended Muslims after 9/11. Trump has been absolutely horrible, of course, and has even done the opposite, appealing to hatred, fear, and ignorance. It’s one of the worst aspects of his campaign and presidency (which are basically the same).

  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    That unnamed Republican consultant is a real idiot. Nothing Trump does or says shows him to be a strong president. Any bets on who it it? I’m thinking Giuliani; the logic is the same.

    Just about the least controversial thing that the Trump administration might – I’m saying might – be able to pull off would be to send Tiffany or Melania to Heather Heyer’s funeral or memorial service. And you just know that somehow they’d manage to ball that up too.

  5. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    For better or for worse, part of the job of being a modern President includes this ‘consoler in chief’ aspect that has become part of the job in the media age

    If Don the Con was doing even a small portion of what he said he would do as President then I could overlook his support of white supremacists.
    But we are not on course for 25M jobs, or 4% GDP growth.
    He is not going to bring back manufacturing jobs.
    We are not going to have beautiful heath care that covers everyone and costs less.
    He is not going to preside over peace in the Middle East. He is not going to defeat terrorism.
    His inability to handle a crisis like C-ville is not just a single deficiency…it’s emblematic of his entire failed Presidency…he’s in a job that he is uniquely unqualified to have.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    Doug, bravo. I loved your writing in this piece.

  7. Joe says:

    Trump, Castellanos added, is leading a “guy’s presidency.”

    WTF? Was Reagan or Bush II not “guy” enough for Castellanos? Was “douche bag’s” too hard to spell? There is nothing “guy”ish about Trump’s deficiencies. Neither John Wayne nor Clint Eastwood would have any problem calling these people out or consoling the town they were run on a rail out of.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    Trump would contribute nothing by going to Charlottesville. He is obviously more sympathetic to the white supremacists and another phony TelePrompTer speech would just stir up emotions. In one sense, I wish he would go as I for one would make the trip to protest against him and what he stands for. But I also know that there are thugs in opposition to the racist too, and the chance of catastrophic violence escalating from confrontation is all too real. Trump would feel the need to disparage and put down those who protest and his Nazi and Klan thugs would take it as permission to break heads. And there are too many immature angry people on the “peace”‘side who are more interested in getting even then merely protecting.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Why the hell would we do that?”

    It’s your F’n job, that’s why.

    President Donald Trump has mastered the art of the swaggering politician, but when tragedy strikes,

    Bravely bold Sir Donald
    Rode forth from Washington.
    He was not afraid of protest,
    Oh brave Sir Donald.
    He was not at all afraid
    To be yelled at in nasty ways.
    Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Donald.

    He was not in the least bit scared
    To be endlessly jeered.
    Or to see those who despise him,
    And get his feelings hurt.
    To have his small hands laughed at
    Brave, brave Sir Donald.

    RUN AWAY!!!!

    To be completely frank about it, there’s a better than even chance that any attempt by Trump to appear in Charlottesville would backfire in any case.

    Well, if he had the courage to face up to difficulties and actually allow people to vent while humbly expressing sorrow at what has happened to our country in 6 short months, he could actually earn a little respect….

    Yeah right, that’ll be the day our coward in chief faces the rabble.

  10. KM says:

    Trump, Castellanos added, is leading a “guy’s presidency ”

    “And I think that’s part of why at times you see him reluctant to reveal his more feminine, nourishing, care-giving side, because he doesn’t have one. He was elected to bring order to a world that’s spinning out of control. Voters chose strength. Not compassion.”

    There’s discarded breast tissue in a medical waste facility somewhere that’s a better “guy” and President then Trump will ever be. Loser likes to pretend he’s an “alpha male”; that he doesn’t bother with any of that effeminate crap like humanity. However, people expect their President to give a damn. Outright saying Trump doesn’t have any compassion for the public he works for isn’t going to sit well with many. When the inevitable military conflict flares up, is he going to refuse to meet with the families of fallen soldiers for fear of a bad photo op? What about victims of the next hurricane or tornado to wreck the countryside – he gonna tweet out SAD! for every little thing then go back to the ninth?

  11. gVOR08 says:

    White House aides note Trump has a compassionate side that may not come across in public but is routinely on display for those who know him well. They cite his decision in April to launch 59 cruise missiles…


  12. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Yes, that was when I decided either we’ve got Trump minions in the WH who know damn well that they’re trolling us, or they’re totally loopy.

    And whenever I see these modern hipster Nazis, I want to give this speech:

    The Doctor: Hello Stonehenge! Who takes the Pandorica, takes the universe! But, bad news everyone, ’cause guess who! HAH! You lot, you’re all whizzing about, it’s very distracting. Could you all stay still for a moment, because I! AM! TALKING! Now the question of the hour is who’s got the Pandorica. Answer: I do. Next question: who’s coming to take it from me? Come onnnnnn! Look at me, no plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn. Oh, and something else: I don’t have anything. To. Lose. So! If you’re sitting up there in your silly little spaceships with all your silly little guns, and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica, tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way. Remember every black day I ever stopped you. And then, AND THEN, do the smart thing. Let someone else try first.

    “silly little torches and silly little flags….”

  13. gVOR08 says:

    Trump was just on the TV loudly and vehemently defending the alt-right in Charlottsville.

  14. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:

    OMG…he just destroyed himself!!!
    Vehemently defending white supremacists!!!!
    And David Duke liked it…
    You are watching a President crash and burn in real time.
    And everyone in the administration that doesn’t immediately resign owns this racism and bigotry.
    Everyone that voted for this buffoon owns this racism.

  15. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Yes. But it was for the children. Doesn’t that count?

    He’s missing an empathy gene.

    As are most sociopaths, if I recall my psychology classes correctly,

  16. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:
  17. Moosebreath says:

    @Daryl’s other brother, Daryll:

    “OMG…he just destroyed himself!!!”

    Sorry, but way too many people have said that about way too many things Trump said in the past for me to believe this was the tipping point.

  18. teve tory says:

    Texas Voter Maps Blocked as Racially Biased by U.S. Judges

    Texas can’t use its current voter maps in the upcoming congressional midterm elections after a panel of federal judges ruled districts approved by state Republican lawmakers illegally discriminate against Hispanic and black voters.

    It’s almost like the GOP has some issues with race.

  19. Tyrell says:

    @MarkedMan: I gave a list of some rules that all demonstrators should follow and obey or they are not allowed. Certainly a bond should be signed that covers damages, injuries,clean up, and liability.
    It is certainly sad the way these people carried on. Even if the tragic attack by that idiot in the car had not happened I saw incidents of assault, damage to cars, throwing objects, hitting people with sticks, and ugly behavior to the police.
    I also saw some woman who was not wearing a top standing there screaming at everyone without thinking about anything she said. It was not nice to watch.
    Is this what we have sunk to ? Is depraved, bizarre, demented behavior now the norm in public assemblies? I remember watching protests of the early ’60’s. The people marching wore suits, shirts, and ties.
    They did not go hog wild, screaming, hollering, assaulting each other and disrespecting everyone and everything.

  20. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: I take it that you missed the fire hoses, tear gas, and police with riot batons parts of these celebrations, eh?

    “Four dead in Oh Hi yo.” (Crosby, Stills, Nash, IIRC)

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Daryl’s other brother, Daryll:

    OMG…he just destroyed himself!!!

    My local news station just did an internet poll: “Is the President handling the events in Charlottesville correctly?”

    64% No, 36% Yes.

    Thirty-bleeping-six percent in total denial. WTF?