The Republican National Committee walked the tightrope Friday in carefully but resolutely denouncing white supremacist groups without criticizing President Trump, who waffled in his own statements in the wake of the deadly clash in Virginia this month.
Meeting in Nashville, the RNC approved a raft of resolutions, including one asserting “Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists and others are repulsive, evil and have no fruitful place in the United States.”
And though the vote was unanimous, some members had grumbled that the resolution was unnecessary and reflected unnecessary defensiveness.
“It’s amazing that we have been lured into this argument that we’re not racists. It’s absurd,” said Colorado Republican Chairman Jeff Hays. “Why would we feel compelled to do that?”
But this was a priority for Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, as well as for committee members who were openly bothered by Trump’s initial resistance to singling out the racist groups after the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Hearing about the grumbling, McDaniel made the rounds Friday morning to reinforce with members that the measure was a priority. “Every day, I wake up proud that we’re the party of Lincoln,” McDaniel told the committee Friday. “Condemning violence is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is an American issue.”
Despite the resolution, there doesn’t appear to be a softening of support for the president within the party’s national organization.
Rather, what was to be a sleepy, pro-forma late summer gathering seemed to spark renewed backing for the president despite a series of recent setbacks: the GOP’s stunning failure to repeal and replace Obamacare and the departure of crowd favorite Reince Priebus, the former RNC chairman, as Trump’s chief of staff.
“The president was not wrong to point out what the media has failed to point out,” that counter-protesters also “came for a battle” in Charlottesville, said Pennsylvania Republican Chairman Val DiGiorgio.
DiGiorgio stood by the “many sides” comment Trump made immediately after the clash in Virginia, in which a car was driven into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman. The president was criticized harshly by Republicans and Democrats because he didn’t immediately denounce the white nationalist groups.
There was palpable contempt in the conference room for counter-protesters who were ready to fight. RNC member Morton Blackwell, who affirmed his support for the resolution, said, “Every person who came to Charlottesville intending violence was evil.”
Bill Palatucci, a RNC committeeman from New Jersey who sponsored the resolution, said it was important for the committee to formally denounce white supremacists. Palatucci said, “I think he [Trump] got it wrong a week ago Tuesday, in regards to Charlottesville,” when the president said during a free-wheeling, defiant news conference that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the demonstration.