Trump's response to racist violence in Charlottesville appears to be harming him

Elite and grassroots Republicans are starting to turn on the president

By Matthew Sheffield
August 14, 2017 10:57PM (UTC)
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White nationalist demonstrators walk through town after their rally was declared illegal near Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The outrage generated by President Donald Trump's refusal to specifically mention white nationalism, neo-Nazism, or some synonym in light of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. made him reverse course earlier today during impromptu remarks he made after giving a speech about the economy.

"Racism is evil," the president said. "And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."


Trump's Monday statement was a great contrast to the equivocating reaction he had on Saturday, when he twice tried to draw equivalence between racist groups and their critics.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides," Trump said earlier.


The president's refusal to explicitly call out the far-right groups who had gathered in support of a Confederate war memorial appears to have harmed him among Republicans on Capitol Hill, many of whom were quick to condemn racist violence.

Trump has long been viewed with disdain by many Republican politicians and their staffers. Yet because of his popularity with grassroots Republicans, many GOP politicians have been loath to openly criticize him.

Trump's reaction to Charlottesville and his flagrant attacks on the GOP's Senate leader Mitch McConnell have provoked the largest amount of on-the-record criticism Trump has faced thus far in his young administration.


Trump's approval ratings have also fallen in light of the Charlottesville violence, according to a Gallup tracking poll released Monday which found that 34 percent of Americans approved of his job performance. 61 percent of respondents, a new high, said they disapproved.

The survey includes some interviews that were done on Friday, before the weekend, meaning that some people may have changed their opinion afterwards in light of the riot.

Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via or follow him on Twitter.

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