Watch CBS News

Kamala Harris slams Trump after first debate: "What we saw was a dog whistle through a bullhorn"

Vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris slammed President Trump after the first presidential debate, during which the president refused to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and defended his administration's decision to direct federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training.

"What we saw was a dog whistle through a bullhorn," Harris said on MSNBC after the debate. "Donald Trump is not pretending to be anything other than what he is, someone who will not condemn white supremacists, someone who cannot say the phrase Black Lives Matter, someone who is getting rid of training of federal employees around the issue of race and the need to be aware of implicit bias."

Harris made the remarks when asked by MSNBC's Brian Williams if the country witnessed a "dog whistle in real time" when the president said on Tuesday: "If you were a certain person, you had no status in life — it was sort of a reversal" — something Mr. Trump said when asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace about racial sensitivity training and why he decided to end it. 

During the debate, Biden also accused Mr. Trump of dog whistling, saying, "This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle to try to generate racist hatred, racist division." A dog whistle is a subtle message that some people understand to have a hidden meaning. 

Biden also called Mr. Trump "the worst president America has ever had," blaming him for bungling the response to the pandemic and fueling racial divisions amid recent protests against police brutality.

Trump "owes America an apology" for remarks on white supremacy, ADL leader says 12:01

During the debate, President Trump was asked if he was "willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to" violence in a number of cities. 

Mr. Trump said he was "willing to do that," but claimed that "almost everything I see is from the left wing."

The answer was not good enough for Mr. Trump's opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden prodded Mr. Trump to categorically denounce white supremacists, as did Chris Wallace.

Mr. Trump asked Biden and Wallace, "What do you want me to call them? Give me a name. Who would you like me to condemn?"

Biden referenced the Proud Boys, a far-right group, while Wallace said white supremacists. 

"The Proud Boys," Mr. Trump said. "Stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem."

Shortly after his comment, the Proud Boys began to use those words as a new slogan. On the group's public Telegram channel, some members boasted of Mr. Trump's answer. They shared their new Trump-inspired logo and posted videos from the debate with the caption: "God. Family. Brotherhood."

The term "Proud Boys" was also trending on Twitter, as was the hashtag #ProudBoysStandby. Many Twitter users, however, were using the terms to condemn Mr. Trump's message.

The Proud Boys, a group that has engaged in violent acts and has often supported white supremacist ideas, call themselves "western chauvinists." The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group, designates them a hate group. 

A representative for the Proud Boys told CBS News the group does not consider Mr. Trump's comments at the debate an endorsement nor do they consider themselves white supremacists.  

They made headlines over the weekend for gathering in Portland to show support for the president.

Kamala Harris said President Trump "denigrated the office" with his performance at first debate 02:08

Melissa Quinn and Grace Segers contributed to this report. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.