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Customers respect CEOs who aren't afraid of taking a stand against neo-Nazis, ex-Bush 41 aide says

  • It's fine for businesses to take a stand on issues, Republican strategist Joe Watkins says.
  • "Customers respect it when you take a stand and say you're on the side of right," he says.
  • Two more members of President Donald Trump's manufacturing panel resigned Tuesday after the president's remarks on white supremacist protests in Charlottesville.

Businesses should not be afraid of firmly standing up to white supremacists, Republican strategist Joe Watkins told CNBC on Wednesday.

"Customers respect it when you take a stand and say you're on the side of right," said Watkins, a White House aide in the George H.W. Bush administration.

"America took a strong stand during the Second World War and said they were against Nazism, that they didn't like that philosophy, that it was a philosophy that they were willing to fight against. And it's OK for Americans still in the 21st century to say the same thing," he added in an interview on "Squawk Box."

Also on "Squawk Box," Ron Christie, former special assistant to George W. Bush, said businesses probably should leave the council if it hurts their bottom line. Christie also said President Donald Trump should have released a statement against the extreme-right-wing violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, much sooner.

Trump explicitly condemned white supremacists and "racist" violence on Monday, two days after he condemned hatred and violence "on many sides" without specifically denounce white supremacist groups. A counterprotester was killed in a car ramming on Saturday, and a suspected white supremacist has been charged in her death.

At a heated news conference Tuesday, Trump doubled down on his initial response, blaming "both sides." That prompted the resignations of two more members of the presidential manufacturing panel: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the union's deputy chief of staff, Thea Lee.

Four other business leaders earlier stepped down from their advisory roles: Merck's Ken Frazier did so on Monday morning, followed by Under Armour's Kevin Plank, Intel's Brian Krzanich and Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.

Trump on Tuesday ripped into business leaders who resigned, calling them "grandstanders."

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