Time for My Fellow Republicans to Stand up and Be Counted

Watching Donald Trump’s train crash of a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, one unwelcome thought preoccupied me: What if he actually pours gasoline on himself and takes out a match on live TV?

Metaphorically, at least, he came as close as he possibly could—closer than any president would have. Or should have. Or could have. Closer than Lyndon Johnson at his most loathsome or Richard Nixon, who at least refrained from uttering his offensive fulminations against “the Jews” and homosexuals in public.

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It is all so surreal—the most apt and yet overused word of the Trump presidency. Can this all really be happening? Is it all a dream? Of course, the most important question, speaking as a Republican for many years, was this: Where is everybody?

In the hours that passed since the president’s remarks—in which he seemed to alternately take to task and defend the motives of “both sides” of last weekend’s march in Charlottesville— numerous outlets cited the ensuing bipartisan outrage. The suggestion is that Republicans, too, have taken the president to task.

No, they haven’t. Not most of them. The most prominent GOP officeholders in this country – many of whom I personally know to be good people—have made oblique criticisms of the president on social media or, more often than not, said nothing. That’s not true of everyone – Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner are standouts, for example—but it is depressingly true in general.

And as I’ve talked to many friends in the party, including influential, high-ranking ones, I realize that some of them don’t truly get why what the president has been saying demands condemnation. The president clearly doesn’t get it, either. General Kelly, the White House chief of staff, obviously does. During Trump’s remarks, he looked like his favorite dog was just hit by the presidential limousine in front of Trump Tower as the president backed up, and ran over it again. Ivanka and Jared get it, too—they let it be known—except they were, sadly, on vacation this week. But the reaction has not been as widespread within the GOP as it should be. As it must be.

For several days, I’ve tried to wrap my head around those defending the president on this. Or remaining silent, which is its own form of defense. Yes, the media has been biased. Yes, they have gone after Trump with a determination and fury that Barack Obama never faced. Yes, other presidents have been slow to respond to various events. Yes, they have far too freely labeled every Republican from Ronald Reagan to both Bushes to Mitt Romney a racist at one point or another. Yes, there are people with debatable concerns about erasing parts of American history. But who cares?

The media didn’t force the president to say—or rather not say—what he did on Saturday, when the people of Charlottesville needed words of unity and healing instead of an indictment of “many sides” that seemed to give racists the very moral equivalence they so long have sought. And the media didn’t force the president to (yet again) fault “both sides” on Tuesday afternoon, or suggest that those hanging around with armed Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” were just peaceful, lawful demonstrators speaking their minds. (They had a permit!) Once a leader can, with a straight face, offer any support at all for those marching to take away the rights of minorities, and get away with it, can there be any norms of behavior left to sweep away?

Here’s the main argument I’ve heard from Trump defenders: that what he said on Tuesday was true. That there were acts of violence committed by “both sides” in Charlottesville. That there were people uncomfortable with the removal of Confederate statutes in their town who didn’t necessarily share the extreme and hateful views of neo-Nazis and Klansmen. Here’s what these defenders don’t get: That’s not at all the point.

Were there people attending a Klan rally in Charlottesville who love African Americans and gays and Jews and Catholics and believe they deserve equal treatment under the law? Were there people who listened to marchers uttering horrific anti-Semitic slurs, didn’t agree with them, but stayed anyway? I guess it’s possible. But frankly I don’t care. No one should. They were with the wrong group. They should have known better. Evil comes in many forms—overtly from those who hate, but also by those who stand beside them and do nothing.

Tellingly, President Trump called out “troublemakers” who were part of the counterdemonstrations in Charlottesville and were supposedly looking for a fight. “Troublemakers” is an interesting term. And a loaded one. It harkens back to all those malcontents in the 1960s who didn’t leave things well enough alone and traveled to the Deep South to protest segregated diners or buses. White racists loved to call Dr. King a troublemaker. The idea was that he was spoiling for a fight and the South was just defending its “values” and its “heritage.”

Is there a time and place for calling out so-called “alt left” groups who foment violence? Sure, I suppose. But let me suggest it is not right after people have been killed in an American city as a direct result of a march initiated by neo-Nazis and other racists.

It’s funny that Trump decided to pick last weekend’s events, of all times he could have chosen, to restrain himself, uttering the dubious, if not preposterous assertion, that “before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.” One wonders: What facts were needed to say immediately, as any other president would, that members of the Klan and neo-Nazis are hateful and vile people whose views should be roundly rejected? Why, as others have pointed out, did the president so quickly denounce the head of Merck for quitting some advisory council and yet took so long to assemble “the facts” before denouncing, of all things, the Klan? Why do all the denouncements of reprehensible people like David Duke seem so begrudging, so slow, so reluctant? Is it pure stubbornness or, as he once claimed, a failing earpiece, or something far darker?

Equally funny, in a sick way, is how many backers of Trump are suddenly seeing so many shades of gray, for want of a better term, when it comes to white nationalist marches in America. In World War II, there were undoubtedly Germans who didn’t share the Nazi ideology and were killed by American GIs. Just as there undoubtedly were American soldiers who were “bad apples” lusting for the kill. But we don’t think “both sides” were at fault for the Second World War. I don’t recall many Bush administration supporters worrying about “both sides” in the 2003 Iraq War, either—those poor innocent, pure of heart members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, for example, whose lives were taken by American military forces during our invasion of their country. When police officers have been involved in violent altercations, I must have missed all the Republican leaders attacking “both sides” for the loss of life. If memory serves, Republicans have instead been powerful, even strident, defenders of the police. Rare are those questioning the motives of the cops or wanting to dive deep into, and defend, the motivations of those who attacked then. When O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend, where were all the Republicans who thought maybe Nicole Brown Simpson had it coming? Maybe Ron Goldman threatened O.J. with violence? Maybe “both sides” were in error there, too.

Of course, we all know that there aren’t two sides to every story, as you put it, Mr. President. Sometimes, there is only one side. And your comments, I say with great sadness, put you on the wrong side. Of history. Of basic human decency. Of reality. How do you know when you’ve gone so far afield? Well, as a general rule of thumb, whenever your comments are being praised for “fairness” by people like Richard Spencer and David Duke.

Of course, the president should not get away with this. As a Republican, I like tax cuts and smaller government as much as the next guy—but at what cost? To put up with a man who is actually making racial divisions deeper or, worse, seems to be cultivating those divisions? To support a person who seems to want to give every benefit of the doubt—“I like to know the facts”—to those who hate? To have as our leader a man who is praised by Nazi magazines? (Who knew they even had magazines? That’s information I didn’t need to possess.)

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,” Edmund Burke famously said, “is for good men to do nothing.” Now is the time to stand up and say clearly and publicly that these comments were wrong. Now is the time to put the country ahead of the party. And for politicians in Washington, D.C. to prove they still have the ability to see the difference.

Matt Latimer is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He is currently a co-partner in Javelin, a literary agency and communications firm based in Alexandria, and contributing editor at Politico Magazine.


Trump to hold rally in Phoenix next week

Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images

The Phoenix visit also comes on the heels of President Donald Trump recently saying that he is considering pardoning former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. | Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Amid a rocky week of messaging for Donald Trump following a white nationalist rally that turned deadly last weekend, the president is returning to his comfort zone: the campaign rally.

The Trump campaign is set to hold a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night in what will be his first rally since clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend left one person dead and a seemingly unprecedented boost for white nationalists from a modern American president.

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Arizona has been the focus of Trump’s praise and ire in recent weeks. Sen. John McCain, who is currently battling brain cancer, sunk a seven-year effort by Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last month — which has drawn ire from the president as his legislative agenda has been stalled on nearly all fronts.

McCain’s colleague, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, has also been a target of Trump after writing a book recently that painted the president as a problem for the conservative cause. Flake — who was critical of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, has been on president’s enemy list for his constant criticism of the “Make America Great Again” mantra.

The Phoenix visit also comes on the heels of Trump recently saying that he is considering pardoning former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty two weeks ago of criminal contempt after defying a state judge’s order to stop targeting undocumented immigrants during traffic stops.

Arizona’s geographic location on the border has been a place where Trump has touted “law and order” immigration policies, most notably including the building of a a wall along the southern border. The House of Representatives recently passed legislation to make a down payment on initial construction of the wall, but its future in the Senate remains perilous.


Theresa May criticizes Trump’s response to Charlottesville protest

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May | Pool photo by Ben Stansall/WPA via Getty Images

‘Neo-Nazis: bad Anti-Nazis: good I learned that as a child. It was pretty obvious,’ says British cabinet minister.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday added her voice to criticisms of Donald Trump over his response to the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Telegraph reported.

The U.S. president had said there were some “very fine” people on both sides of the protests at the weekend, in which neo-Nazis clashed with anti-racism demonstrators, leaving one woman dead and several injured.

Speaking in Portsmouth at a ceremony to mark the arrival of a new aircraft carrier, May said: “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.”

May did not respond to calls for Trump’s state visit to the U.K. to be canceled in light of his remarks.

Opposition party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable said the invitation to Trump should be withdrawn, with Cable saying: “Donald Trump has shown he is unable to detach himself from the extreme right and racial supremacists. The fact he remains highly dependent on White House advisers from the extreme right shows he is firmly anchored in this detestable worldview.

“It would be completely wrong to have this man visit the U.K. on a state visit.”

Members of May’s Conservative Party also attacked Trump for failing to condemn the far-right.

Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for communities, tweeted: “Neo-Nazis: bad Anti-Nazis: good I learned that as a child. It was pretty obvious.”

Sam Gyimah, the prisons minister, also took to Twitter, saying: “The ‘leader of the free world’ loses moral authority when he cannot call fascism by its name.”


‘Fox & Friends’ guest: Anyone who defends Trump is ‘morally bankrupt’

A Republican analyst wiped tears from his eyes as he said President Trump “betrayed” the country, speaking Wednesday morning on “Fox & Friends,” a show known to be among Trump’s favorites.

Gianno Caldwell, appearing with political commentator Wendy Osefo, said he could not sleep because of Trump’s comments at a press conference Tuesday. The president reaffirmed that he believes “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend, again refusing to put all the blame on the white supremacists who organized the rally.


“Our president has literally betrayed the conscience of our country,” he said. “He has failed us.”

Caldwell said it is “very troubling” for anyone to come on TV and defend the president’s actions and said that anyone who does defend his actions is “morally bankrupt.”

He responded to Trump’s comment that there are “good people” who were marching on “both sides” of the Charlottesville rally.

“Mr. President, good people don’t pal around with Nazis and white supremacists,” he said. “Maybe they don’t consider themselves white supremacists and Nazis; certainly they hold those views.”

“I hope the president learns a lesson from his press conference on yesterday. It’s disturbing,” he said.

Host Abby Huntsman tried to steer the conversation to the topic of removing Confederate statues, but Caldwell returned to Trump.

He added that he reached out to the White House suggesting the president address the country in “distinct terms.”


RNC chair: No place for white supremacists in the Republican Party

Ronna Romney McDaniel is pictured here. | AP Photo

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel also defended Trump, who reiterated Wednesday that “there’s blame on both sides” for the deadly clashes last Saturday. | Carlos Osorio /AP

White supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups have “no place in the Republican party,” its chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said Wednesday morning hours after President Donald Trump insisted that those groups did not deserve 100 percent of the blame for their violent rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

McDaniel defended Trump, who reiterated in a Wednesday press conference inside his Manhattan skyscraper that “there’s blame on both sides” for the deadly clashes last Saturday, telling ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the president had condemned the hate groups.

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That condemnation, delivered Monday, came under great political pressure and was quickly undone Tuesday when the president repeated what had been his initial reaction, that the white supremacist groups and the protesters gathered to oppose them should share the blame for the violence that erupted.

“Well the president condemned the white supremacists and the KKK and the neo-Nazis unequivocally,” McDaniel told ABC anchor David Muir.

“But it took 48 hours for him to do that,” Muir replied.

“But he did it and he should have and he did. And our party has across the board has said this is unacceptable. We have no place in our party at all for KKK, anti-Semitism, race — racism, bigotry, it has no place in the Republican party,” she said. “There is no home here. We don’t want your vote. We don’t support you. We’ll speak out against you. The president has said so.”

The violence in Charlottesville peaked Saturday when a man drove a car into a group of anti-white supremacist protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people.

Trump’s Wednesday remarks equivocating the hate groups that marched Saturday in Virginia with the demonstrators gathered to oppose them prompted quick and forceful rebukes from prominent members of his own party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is McDaniel’s uncle.

Former KKK leader David Duke, a former Louisiana state representative, thanked Trump, via Twitter “for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists.”

“Oh, I think that makes everybody’s stomach turn and I think it makes the president’s stomach turn,” McDaniel said when asked about Duke’s online comment. She said Trump “has condemned David Duke. David Duke has nothing to do with the Republican party.”

Duke supported Trump during last year’s presidential election, an endorsement that the president did not immediately reject when asked about it in an interview. Later, under political pressure, Trump said he did not want Duke’s support.

While McDaniel was insistent that the president had been unequivocal in his condemnation of the hate groups that marched on Saturday in Virginia, she diverged from Trump in assessing the blame for the deadly violence.

“When it comes to Charlottesville, the blame lays squarely at the KKK and the white supremacists who organized this rally and put together an entire event around hate and bigotry,” she said. “I don’t think comparing blame works in this situation because we know what initiated the violence and the death of this young woman whose life was taken too soon.”