Distancing Themselves From Trump, Top Republicans Slam White Supremacists

Former presidents George W. and H.W. Bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain and Mitt Romney all condemn far-right actions in Charlottesville

A demonstrator chants and holds a sign during a rally outside of Trump Tower, New York, August 15, 2017.
Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Leading Republicans were quick to draw daylight between themselves and U.S. President Donald Trump's latest comments on Charlottesville, after he again blamed both sides for the violent clashes that erupted during a white supremacist rally on Saturday.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Trump condemned the "alt-left" protesters who he said "came charging" at the rally attendees, and that not all of the protesters were neo-Nazis. But many high-ranking Republicans rejected his views.

On Wednesday, former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush released a joint statement condemning the far-right violence in Charlottesville, without explicitly mentioning Trump.

"America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms," they declared. "As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."

But former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush addressed Trump directly in a series of tweets. "I urge POTUS to unite the country, not parse the assignment of blame for the events in Charlottesville," he wrote, adding, "For the sake of our country, he must leave no room for doubt that racism and hatred will not be tolerated or ignored by his White House."

John McCain, meanwhile, wrote: "There's no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry. The President of the United States should say so."

House Speaker Paul Ryan also felt moved to comment. "We must be clear," he tweeted. "White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential election, delivered one of the strongest denouncements of Trump's words. "No, not the same," he tweeted, referring to Trump's tarring of both the rally attendees and counterprotesters. "One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigostry. Morally different universes."

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a press release on Wednesday, ahead of a planned white supremacist march in Kentucky.

"The white supremacist, KKK, and neo-Nazi groups who brought hatred and violence to Charlottesville are now planning a rally in Lexington. Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should not be welcome anywhere in America," McConnell said.

"We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred," he continued. "There are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever it raises its evil head."

McConnell's former chief of staff, Josh Holmes, was another critic of Trump's stance. "The president just erased yesterday's speech and is now back to Saturday's position on Charlottesville. Unbelievable," he wrote on Twitter.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida) was one of the most outspoken Republicans.

"Blaming both sides for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no."