Following statements last week in which President Donald Trump seemed to support white supremacists, some of his fellow Republicans are working to distance themselves from him. Some Republican strategists, meanwhile, fear he has done long-term damage to their party among both minority voters and white Americans.
Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville that left one counterprotestor and two police officers dead. He later said that the white supremacists who had organized the protest included “very fine people.”
Publicly, prominent Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Governor Mitt Romney have implicitly or explicitly lambasted Trump’s response.
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Many of those statements were based on personal ideals – McConnell in particular was described by aides as incensed. But they’re also clearly tactical, as some Republicans distance themselves from a President whose impulsiveness threatens their political future.
Trump’s core support remains strong, and many Republican voters agreed with his statements. But with Independents now outnumbering both Republicans and Democrats, the statements could still be harmful in future elections. Speaking to The Hill, former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye said Republicans fear Trump’s statements are “turning off a broad swath of voters… [and] not just minority voters.”
Another Republican strategist, speaking to the Washington Post, also pegged Trump as a long-term risk, saying that his response “dumped out” 10% of “the persuadable universe” of voters.
Even before Charlottesville, high-profile Republican defections had begun – most notably that of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who in late July released a surprise book that characterized Trump’s relationship to the party as a “Faustian bargain.” But now, with midterm elections coming up quickly, many more seem to see the President as an existential threat from within.