It was perfectly clear what President Donald Trump was avoiding in his comments about the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday. He condemned the hate and bigotry “on many sides.” He didn’t call out white nationalists or supremacists by name.
His words did not go unnoticed — prompting top GOP senators, like Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), John McCain (AZ), Rob Portman (OH), Cory Gardner (CO), and Marco Rubio (FL), to call out the president for sidestepping the force of evil at play.
Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism. https://t.co/PaPNiPPAoW— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) August 12, 2017
Rubio followed suit, pressing the need for Trump to acknowledge the events that transpired.
For context, keep in mind that these are not backbench Republicans. They’re well-known and influential players in Republican politics. They’re also not reflexive critics; they’ve defended Trump in the past. From this perspective, it’s a big deal to see senators buck their party leader so forcefully.
Still, their obvious statements against neo-Nazis shouldn’t normally look like an act of political courage. They are telling Trump that he needs to call today’s events for what they are: an act of domestic terrorism by white supremacists and white nationalists.
What " WhiteNatjonalist" are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can't be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) August 12, 2017
We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. -OGH— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) August 12, 2017
The tragedy in Charlottesville this afternoon was domestic terrorism. We must all condemn hatred and white nationalism.— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) August 12, 2017
On Saturday, crowds of white Americans brandished Confederate flags and swastikas to march in the name of bigotry and hate, in rallies that left one counterprotester dead and injured more than a dozen others. A rally-goer drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters — a type of act that Trump has found it easy to call terrorism in the past.
In a statement, McCain said the event put the ideals fought for in the Civil War at stake:
Our Founders fought a revolution for the idea that all men are created equal. The heirs of that revolution fought a Civil War to save our nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to that revolutionary proposition.
Nothing less is at stake on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, where a violent attack has taken at least one American life and injured many others in a confrontation between our better angels and our worst demons.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.
As we mourn the tragedy that has occurred in Charlottesville, American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry.
As many have pointed out throughout the day, condemning these actions is among the lowest bars to pass — but it is one that Trump decidedly chose not to. He ignored questions from reporters asking if he condemns white supremacy.
Instead, as Vox’s Dara Lind wrote, the president ended up “signaling to the white supremacists that he is on their side.”