President Donald Trump on Monday bemoaned NASCAR’s recent decision to ban the Confederate flag from all races and events.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!” Trump tweeted.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country, Trump has largely moved on, seeking instead to place focus on his “law and order” message through a series of inflammatory speeches, tweets, and statements defending racist monuments and digging in his opposition to renaming Army bases named for Confederate leaders.
The “Flag decision” in Trump’s tweet appears to link NASCAR’s decision to remove Confederate flag imagery from all races and events with lower ratings. Last month, amid nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers NASCAR banned the flag, a racist symbol.
NASCAR has said that the presence of the Confederate flag “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”
Trump ally and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pushed back on Trump’s tweet during a Fox News radio interview on Monday.
“They’re trying to grow the sport,” Graham said, referring to the decision to ban flags from NASCAR events. “And I’ve lived in South Carolina all my life and if you’re in business, the Confederate flag is not a good way to grow your business.”
The White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for clarification on why the President thinks NASCAR’s decision to ban Confederate imagery is affecting its ratings and whether he disagrees with that decision.
NASCAR also launched an investigation last month after a crew member of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, its only full-time black driver, discovered a noose in his garage stall at the Talladega Superspeedway. The FBI found that the noose had been in the garage since last year and Wallace was therefore not a victim of a hate crime. NASCAR, mentioning the FBI report, described the item as a “garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose.”
“It was a noose,” Wallace told CNN after the investigation. “Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. So, it wasn’t directed at me but somebody tied a noose. That’s what I’m saying.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated Trump’s message when asked about the tweets on Fox News, comparing the noose incident to an alleged assault on actor Jussie Smollett and attacks on the character of students from Covington High School after a viral video gained national attention that initially lacked important additional context.
“What the President is making is a broader point that this rush to judgment on the facts before the facts are out is not acceptable. And we saw it with the Covington kids and we saw with Jussie Smollett, and now we saw it in the case before the FBI came to that conclusion,” she said.
“The President’s merely pointing out that we’ve gotta let facts come out before we rush to judgment,” she added.
Smollett, who is gay and black, said he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack near his Chicago apartment on January 29, 2019. Chicago police investigated the case as a hate crime but later said the actor orchestrated the incident. Smollett has repeatedly denied making up or orchestrating the attack.
Monday’s tweet builds on Trump’s weekend culture war rhetoric.
Speaking at the base of Mount Rushmore Friday evening, he railed against what he called a “merciless campaign” by his political foes to erase history by removing monuments — even though the sculptures memorialize parts of America’s racist past.
“As we meet here tonight there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for,” Trump said. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
And back at the White House on Saturday, he compared his efforts to defeat “the radical left” to the efforts by the United States to eradicate the Nazis.
Last week, he went after attempts to strip the names of racists from buildings, attacked a federal housing rule meant to combat racial segregation, and called the words “black lives matter” a “symbol of hate.”
Some of the President’s political advisers worry Trump is both distracted from the actual health and economic crises facing the country and alienating moderate swing voters whose views on race have evolved past viewing Confederate monuments as “history.”
But Trump has insisted the issue is a winning one for him and has refused to change course.
Graham also told Fox News radio that he would encourage Trump to distinguish between protesters and violent looters, saying “there are voices out in the country that are pushing for racial justice.”