"I also don't see how someone who has repeatedly denied being racist can be an 'open, avowed racist.'"
As the county reels over a pair of mass shootings that left at least 31 people dead and 53 injured over the weekend, several Republicans lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, have publicly condemned white supremacy and expressed support for taking up legislation to tighten background checks.
Although some prominent conservatives have appeared to change their tune on gun control after the back-to-back massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, others remain reluctant to stand up to the powerful gun lobby — the National Rifle Association — and acknowledge the role firearms played in the bloodshed.
In response to calls from Democrats to end the Senate's summer recess and reconvene in order to pass gun control legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans were prepared to "work in a bipartisan, bicameral way to address the recent mass murders which have shaken our nation." However, he made no mention of any timeline to do so.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, condemned white supremacy and bigotry, though he also stopped short of calling for background checks on firearms.
Among the most controversial responses to the devastating scenes of gun violence and death came from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who insisted that the most powerful strategy to curb gun violence was offering "thoughts and prayers." Huckabee's words echoed the routine refrain from the chorus of conservative politicians that follows each new mass shooting in lieu of legislative action.
"Despite all those who are denouncing the idea of prayers for the victims . . . I will continue to pray for the victims and their families and for an end to this mindless violence, and I hope you will, too. In fact . . . I would posit that the lack of thought and prayers is probably the single biggest factor in what is behind them," Huckabee, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in both 2008 and 2016, wrote in a blog post on his website.
The frequent "Fox & Friends" guest added that mass shootings will never stop until "kids are brought up once again to believe that we are all made in the image of God, that life is sacred and superficial differences like skin color are meaningless."
"Until then, passing more laws and pointing more fingers is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," he continued. "That's why I will keep ignoring the scoffers, and saying prayers and urging everyone to join together and do the same."
Huckabee also took aim at Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, the former U.S. congressman whose district included El Paso, for calling Trump a racist who is inciting violence across the country. He defended the president by arguing, "I also don't see how someone who has repeatedly denied being racist can be an 'open, avowed racist.'"
"It seems pretty obvious that President Trump's rhetoric was not a common denominator in the killings," he added.
Huckabee, like many of the Republicans who spoke out against the massacres, did not pin blame for the violence on Trump. However, leading voices in the Democratic Party argued that the president's incendiary rhetoric on immigration and reluctance to reject white nationalism had contributed to increased violence.
"White supremacy is a domestic terrorism threat in the same way that foreign terrorism threatens our people," Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren told CNN's Don Lemon in the wake of the dual tragedies. "And it is the responsibility of the president of the United States to help fight back against that — not to wink, and nod, and smile at it and let it get stronger in this country."
"Hate crimes are up around this country," Warren continued. "And people who are hateful feel like they are now empowered — they are protected. They celebrate this president."
The shooter accused of carrying out the massacre in El Paso wrote in a racist screed that "this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas," directly echoing Trump's repeated warnings of "an invasion" at the border ahead of the 2018 midterm election cycle.
In February, Trump visited El Paso to host his first campaign rally of the year. There, he made another public demand for his $5.7 billion "wall" that would stop what he has labeled "an urgent national crisis" at "our very dangerous southern border." Without offering evidence, the president blamed a surge of crime, drugs and human trafficking on migrants seeking illegal entry.
"The suspect wrote that his views 'predate Trump,' as if anticipating the political debate that would follow the blood bath," Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear wrote in the New York Times. "But if Mr. Trump did not originally inspire the gunman, he has brought into the mainstream polarizing ideas and people once consigned to the fringes of American society."
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called for "unity" on Sunday, tweeting that "working as one to understand depraved evil & to eradicate hate is everyone's duty," while Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said "Trump's rhetoric has fueled more hate in this country."
In March, after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, killing 50 people and injuring dozens more, Trump said that he did not believe white nationalism was becoming a widespread threat around the world. The New Zealand gunman allegedly praised Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose" and referred to immigrants as "invaders within our lands" in a manifesto shared prior to the attack.
Trump has denied responsibility for inciting violence in the past, and he publicly condemned white supremacy during his televised address on Monday.
"In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy," the president said. "These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul."