Republicans distanced themselves from Trump for failing to denounce white supremacy, and the president scrambled to defend himself.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said Mr. Trump should “clear it up.” Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, told reporters “he should unequivocally condemn white supremacy.” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told reporters “it was the least educational debate of any presidential debate I’ve ever seen” and said that Mr. Trump should “absolutely” condemn white supremacy.

So on Wednesday Mr. Trump addressed the issue, retreating from his debate night comments that the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has endorsed violence, should “stand by.” Speaking to reporters as he left the White House for a campaign trip to Minnesota, he said: “I don’t know who Proud Boys are, but whoever they are, they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work.”

But the president once again quickly added that left-wing violence was “the real problem” and falsely accused former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of refusing to say the words “law enforcement” during Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

Mr. Trump has often been criticized for failing to denounce racist, white supremacist and violent right-wing groups. After a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 turned deadly, the president did not initially specifically criticize white supremacists or the neo-Nazi slogans that were chanted, blaming “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

And at the debate on Tuesday, Mr. Trump diverted a question about whether he would condemn white supremacists and militias into an attack on left-wing protesters.

“Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Chris Wallace, the moderator, asked the president.

“Sure. I’m willing to do that,” said Mr. Trump, but quickly added, “Almost everything I see is from the left wing. Not from the right wing.”


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