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GOP Leaders Dance Around Trump Remarks 08/17 06:10

   One after another, the nation's most powerful Republicans responded to 
President Donald Trump's extraordinary remarks about white supremacists. Yet 
few mentioned the president.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- One after another, the nation's most powerful Republicans 
responded to President Donald Trump's extraordinary remarks about white 
supremacists. Yet few mentioned the president.

   The Senate's top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, condemned 
"hate and bigotry." House Speaker Paul Ryan charged that, "White supremacy is 
repulsive." Neither criticized the president's insistence that there were "very 
fine people on both sides" of a violent weekend clash between white 
supremacists and counterdemonstrators.

   The nuanced statements reflect the party establishment's delicate dance. Few 
top Republican officeholders defended the president in the midst of an 
escalating political crisis. Yet they are unwilling to declare all-out war 
against Trump and risk alienating his loyalists. And as the 2018 elections 
begin to take shape, the debate over Trump's words appears to be taking hold in 
GOP primaries.

   Trump's overall approval rating may be dismal, but a small group of die-hard 
supporters is expected to play an outsized role in next year's midterm 
elections when the Republican control of Congress is at stake. Those supporters 
are praising the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville, 
Virginia, which left one dead and many more wounded.

   "You got racism in both factions, on both sides," former New Hampshire GOP 
chair Jack Kimball said. "Trump has zero fault here. None."

   Republican leaders also need the president: They hope to work with him to 
enact meaningful legislation on infrastructure, taxes and health care to prove 
to voters their party can govern.

   The delicate relationship helps explain Wednesday's cautious comments from 
powerful Republicans like McConnell.

   "We all have a responsibility to stand against hate and violence, wherever 
it raises its evil head," McConnell said in a statement, noting that white 
supremacists are planning a rally in his home state of Kentucky.

   "Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should 
not be welcome anywhere in America," he said.

   Former Republican Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, usually silent 
on current political developments, released a joint statement that stopped 
short of criticizing Trump as well.

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

   The political tap dance frustrated as least one member of Trump's diversity 
council, CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Javier Palomarez, who 
called Trump's response "a monumental failure in leadership."

   He challenged those who denounced racism in general terms without calling 
out the president by name.

   "That's a sign of weakness, and I don't think the American people and the 
Republican Party is going to forget," said Palomarez, who noted he would remain 
on Trump's diversity council "for now."

   But Trump loyalists on the ground in key states are ready to fight for their 
leader. And there were signs that the divide between the loyalists and 
establishment Republicans is already shaping the mid-term political landscape.

   "We've always had these weak skittish so-called Republicans in the D.C. 
crowd. They're always peeing their pants," said Corey Stewart, a former Trump 
aide who has already launched a 2018 Senate bid in Virginia.

   Many were quick to blame the media for Trump's struggles.

   "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the liberal media is not a 
fan of President Trump," said Trump's Alabama campaign chairman, Perry Hooper, 
arguing the Russia investigation is driven by media obsession. He added, "Now 
they're trying to make him some kind of racist. It's ridiculous. He doesn't 
have a racist bone in his body."

   Nevada Republican Danny Tarkanian, who is challenging Republican Sen. Dean 
Heller, said those criticizing Trump's response to the white supremacist rally 
were "splitting hairs."

   "It was clear the media went out of their way to find fault with his 
statement," Tarkanian said.

   Heller, who is considered one of the most endangered Republicans in the 
nation heading into the 2018 election, posted a simple statement on Twitter 
late Tuesday that stopped short of criticizing the president: "There is no 
defense or justification for evil in the form of white supremacists and Nazis. 
None," he wrote.

   The Republicans who lashed out at Trump most aggressively were, in many 
cases, those with the least to lose politically.

   South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who doesn't face re-election 
until 2020, said the president "took a step backward by again suggesting there 
is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members 
who attended the Charlottesville rally" and the people demonstrating against 
them.

   "Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea 
that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the 
world," Graham added, referring to the former Ku Klux Klan leader.


(KA)

 
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