Charlottesville: How (un)important is for Trump to keep at least some support of far right extremists?

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Questions:

1. President Donald Trump was criticized for his reaction to events in Charlottesville. What would be your reaction, was Trump too soft on white supremacists by not even named them only after the criticism the White House clarified Trump condemns white supremacists ?

2. How important (unimportant?) is for Trump and GOP to keep at least some support of far right extremist elements of the US society?

Answers:

Steven GreeneAssociate Professor of Political Science, North Carolina State University

1. My personal reaction– Trump’s “many sides” response was cowardly and despicable.  But, forget my reaction.  I think the reaction of some very conservative Republicans, Orrin Hatch, Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, etc., essentially calling out Trump for being too soft on white supremacists is very telling.  This tells us just how far out of the mainstream our president is on the issue.  On the one hand, it is encouraging how many voices– including from the right– have spoken out appropriately against this.  On the other hand, it is extremely, extremely distressing that our very president, is clearly unwilling to criticize white supremacists.

2. Well, obviously Trump thinks they are important.  He has spoken his mind– far too freely, shall we say– about all sorts of issues and opponents, yet when it comes to white supremacists (and Vladimir Putin, of course), he pretty much always pulls his punches.

As a political scientist, I can say that it is simply incontrovertible that the GOP has built its current national majority, in significant part, on politically exploiting sentiments of racial animus.  I do not think that the far right is a key element of that, but, when you politically exploit more subtle racial resentment, empowering this kind of far right extremism can be seen as a natural consequence.

Michael Kraft, Emeritus Professor, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

1. Yes, he was. It is one thing for anyone, left or right, to protest peacefully. The Constitution protects such a right under the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the right to assemble for a demonstration or, with a permit, a march. However, when violence breaks out, and one of the white supremacists drives a vehicle into a crowd, killing one person and presumably seriously injuring another, that action become terrorism.  The president has condemned such actions when they happen in France, England, and other countries as terrorism. However, he very explicitly did not use any language of that kind to condemn the white nationalists. Instead, he implied that “all sides” were guilty, and presumably equally guilty. That is ridiculous, and the president is being sharply criticized by many, including leading conservative Republicans for not speaking out against such violence and explicitly rejecting the words and actions of white supremacists. He should be criticized for that.

2. As the white supremacists correctly said yesterday, they helped to get Trump elected, and they are well represented in the White House, specifically by Stephen Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, and Stephen Miller and their staffs. I assume this is one major reason why Trump chose not to condemn their march yesterday or the violence that followed. He does not want to alienate the constituency they represent, which is a core part of his coalition.  So it is not a surprise, and yet he will further alienate the rest of the country, and this will show up, I suspect, in next week’s poll numbers, which have been declining over the past month or so from already historical low. This in turn will further limit his political influence in Congress.

Mark Rozell, Dean and Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University

1. The President’s statement was incredibly weak and it appeared to many to have equated moral equivalence between the racists and those who protested against them. He absolutely needed to specifically call out the white supremacists and he failed to do so.

2. Politically the President and the GOP do not need the support of these extremist groups, as their numbers are small and the overwhelming majority of Americans detest and stand against them and their beliefs. The greater political gain – if that is even a concern at a time like this – would come from a strong denunciation of the white supremacists.

Steffen SchmidtUniversity Professor of Political Science, Iowa State University

1. Yes, Trump avoided the 1,000 Kilo elephant in the room as we would say in the USA.! Bro Nazis, Klu Klux Clan, other white supremacy groups are usually on the unacceptable fringes of American politics. Trump and his team exited these groups and gave them semi-legitimacy during the campaign. Now the have escaped the electric fence ( As in the film Jurassic Park!) and escaped. He and some of his more extreme advisors now own this element and Pres Trump avoided (and then followed up with damage control) condemning this very divisive and destructive element in US society and politics.

2. I think that it will be a disaster if the GOP plays to this fringe of society. They will lose all of the conservatives because the KKK and neo-Nazis are not acceptable in American society. Maybe in a few reactionary southern states these groups are politically valuable to the Republicans. In the rest of America they could be a catastrophe for Republicans in 2018 and 2020. That’s why we have seen so much “push back” from Republican leaders such as Sen Rubio, Cruz, McCain and others.

Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science, Duke University

1. Yes. The tipoff was when Trump went off script in his statement yesterday repeating that responsibility was on “many sides” rather than clearly acknowledge that it was the alt-right and neo-Nazis who were the instigators and committed the murder.

2. While some in the GOP continue to stick with Trump, even before Charlottesville we’d been seeing some Republicans distancing themselves. Examples include the Obamacare vote, Russia sanctions and senators standing by AG Sessions and Mitch McConnell.

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