Republicans back away from Trump after his fiery defense of Virginia rally

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump faces fresh backlash after his defiant remarks about a deadly white nationalist rally.
  • He appeared to draw moral equivalence between white nationalists and people protesting against them.
  • Several Republican lawmakers called the president out by name for his statements.
Sen. Marco Rubio
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Donald Trump's defiant remarks about a deadly white nationalist rally left some notable Republicans backing away from him Wednesday — and others calling him out more bluntly.

On Tuesday, Trump again blamed "both sides" for the events leading to a suspected white nationalist allegedly ramming his car into counterprotesters, killing one woman and wounding 19 others in Charlottesville, Virginia. "Not all" of the people carrying torches and chanting at the white nationalist rally were bad, Trump contended, "and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly."

His comments overshadowed a stronger condemnation of white supremacists and hate groups he made on Monday. Even those remarks came only after he faced enormous bipartisan pressure for blaming violence "on many sides" after Saturday's attack.

Top GOP lawmakers either called out Trump outright or condemned his apparent equivalence between white nationalists and the counterprotesters. Some political observers suggested it may prove to be a turning point in Republicans' relationship with Trump.

Still, most of the party's national figures have not publicly pulled their support for him, despite previous incidents, including the release of a tape in which he appears to boast about sexual assault, his firing of former FBI Director James Comey and unfounded claims that his predecessor wiretapped him, that some suspected would cause serious political damage to Trump.

Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — both of whom said they did not vote for Trump — issued a rare joint statement Wednesday condemning racism. They did not mention the president by name.

"America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms," the Bushes said. "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."

The top Senate and House Republicans condemned white supremacy following Trump's remarks — also without naming the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made an apparent reference to the president's contention that not all the people at the rally were bad.

"We can have no tolerance for an ideology of racial hatred. There are no good neo-nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms," he said in a statement Wednesday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said in his statement Tuesday: "There can be no moral ambiguity" about white supremacy.

Several GOP lawmakers more pointedly mentioned the president in their statements.

"There's no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote in a tweet Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Wednesday said "President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members and the people like Ms. Heyer," the woman killed in Charlottesville.

"Mr. President, you can't allow white supremacists to share only part of blame," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote on Twitter.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., on Tuesday said "no one — especially the President of the United States — should ever tolerate" white supremacy and bigotry.