President Trump’s response to the deadly white-supremacist protests in Charlottesville earlier this month sparked a fierce national backlash, drawing rebukes from elected officials, corporate executives, military leaders, clergy, and—according to a new poll—a majority of Americans.
But it appears there’s at least one influential group that Trump can still count on for support: the institutional Republican Party.
In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, The Atlantic reached out to 146 Republican state party chairs and national committee members for reaction to Trump’s handling of the events. We asked each official two questions: Are you satisfied with the president’s response? And do you approve of his comment that there were “some very fine people” who marched alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis?
The vast majority refused to comment on the record, or simply met the questions with silence. Of the 146 GOP officials contacted, just 22 offered full responses—and only seven expressed any kind of criticism or disagreement with Trump’s handling of the episode. (Those seven GOP leaders represent New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, North Dakota, Alaska, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.) The rest came to the president’s defense, either with statements of support or attempts at justification.
Trump’s reaction to the tragedy in Charlottesville played out over four remarkable days, in an episode that has captured the world’s attention, galvanized grassroots opposition, and plunged his own party and administration into political crisis. On August 11, the same day white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters, Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence—on many sides, on many sides.” Facing pressure to offer a more explicit condemnation, on August 14, he denounced “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups.” But the next day, in an off-the-rails press conference, Trump suggested that not all of the “Unite the Right” marchers were white supremacists, and that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protest.
Most of the Republican officials reached by The Atlantic either claimed they had not heard Trump’s full remarks, or chose to defend them.
Q1: So the Republican Party of New Mexico specifically denounces and condemns any form of racism and hatred. We don’t think that there is a place for it in America, and while we agree that everybody in the United States of America has the right to free speech, what was happening in Charlottesville gives us an even louder reason—an even bigger reason to be more loud and clear that we will not stand for that kind of speech. So I don’t want to say we condone … But the Republican Party of New Mexico does not stand by anything happening in Charlottesville. Q2: Definitely not.
Q1: Am I satisfied? I think we’re part and parceling comments that people are saying and making them out to be more than they are. I think he condemned hatred and violence at all levels, regardless of who the people are, and I agree with that. Whether exact descriptions … That doesn’t matter. Anyone who has hate and violence in their—has done that—then those people, regardless of who they are, those terms are descriptive enough for me. Q2: I have no comment on that.