After Donald Trump used Tuesday’s press conference on infrastructure to defend his previous comments about Saturday’s events in Charlottesville, it’s fair to wonder if any new business leaders will swoop in to replace the corps of CEOs who have departed the American Manufacturing Council in light of both the President’s responses and his lack of responses.
Controversy swirled after Trump’s widely-criticized initial response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend. And today’s encore commentary—which again cast blame “on both sides” and included mentions of the Alt-Left, a group that doesn’t exist—may do little to convince cautious CEOs to fill the void in the President’s advisory ranks.
The protest in Charlottesville, organized by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, left one woman dead and dozens others injured after a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors. Trump had originally condemned violence “on many sides” over the issue (a statement which drew rebukes from both Democrats and Republicans).
The outrage eventually forced Trump to issue a new statement condemning racism and hate groups by name on Monday. But his off-the-cuff remarks on Tuesday repeated the very arguments that chief executives like pharma giant Merck’s CEO Ken Frazier cited as a reason for leaving Trump’s council in the first place. In addition to blaming “both sides” and mentioning the Alt-Left, Trump also argued that taking down Confederate statues is a slippery slope that could ensnare George Washington and other Founding Fathers.
The comments came after Trump boasted earlier in the day that the CEOs and business leader ditching his manufacturing council (including from Merck (mrk), Intel (intc), and Under Armour (uaa)) were simply grandstanding and could be easily replaced.
Several of the chief executives on Trump’s councils told Fortune that they would remain in an effort to sway policy. The only other pharma CEO on the committee, Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky, said he wouldn’t quit the council because the company “must engage if we hope to change the world and those who lead it,” while decrying “intolerance, racism, and violence.” That statement was issued before Trump’s latest comments.
The question now is: Will more business leaders abscond from the council? And if they do, are new CEOs going to be eager to step in?