NASHVILLE — The Republican National Committee passed a resolution denouncing white supremacy Friday afternoon, as President Trump’s own party took the extraordinary step of clarifying its stance against racism after his oscillating response to the violent protest in Charlottesville, Va.
The message from the party’s leadership was clear: Those harboring beliefs that are aligned with Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are not welcome in the party of President Abraham Lincoln.
The resolution, passed on a voice vote, declared that racist beliefs are “repulsive, evil and have no fruitful place in the United States.”
It came as Gary Cohn, the White House’s top economic official, said the administration “must do better” in condemning white supremacists.
The Republican Party now joins other US and global institutions in condemning the racism that reared up in Virginia earlier this month. Trump himself, though, has zigzagged, strongly criticizing hate groups some days when reading from a teleprompter, but on other days appearing to draw a moral equivalency between white nationalists and counterprotesters.
The muddled message from the White House is considered by many to be the darkest in a series of self-inflicted crises during Trump’s presidency.
His response prompted leaders in charge of four US military service branches to issue statements condemning racism and extremism, which was widely viewed as a rebuke of the commander in chief.
It also led to more than a dozen business and labor leaders, including UnderArmour’s Kevin Plank, Intel Corp.’s Brian Krzanich, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, to resign from White House commissions in protest. Also, a number of charities canceled gala events at Trump’s Mar-a-lago resort in Florida, including the American Cancer Society and the Salvation Army.
Many members of the Republican National Committee, which is a stand-in for the party’s establishment, dismissed Trump during the 2016 campaign, but the party apparatus fully backed him after he became the nominee and the members continue to embrace the president.
“What we were worried about — are worried about — is that some of these hate groups are trying to steal our identity,” said Ron Kaufman, a Republican National Committee member from Massachusetts, after the vote. “We wanted to be very clear that these people have no place in the Republican Party.”
This roiling debate over what signals the president is sending to hate groups began on Aug. 12, shortly after a driver plowed into a group of peaceful counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 people. A man who participated in the neo-Nazi demonstrations was charged in her death.
Trump, in unscripted remarks, condemned hatred and bigotry on “many sides” after the killing. That prompted immediate criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans who felt he was putting the white supremacists and counterprotesters on the same plane.
And white nationalist groups celebrated Trump’s words, pleased that the president didn’t immediately condemn them. “Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us,” read a statement published on The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, after Trump blamed both sides.
Two days later, on Aug. 14, Trump read a more traditional statement from the Diplomatic Room of the White House where he denounced the KKK and white nationalists by name. It quieted critics, who were left saying that Trump should have reacted with those words sooner.
But the following day, during a free-wheeling news conference at Trump Tower in New York, Trump defended his initial remarks — which reignited the controversy and prompted another flood of concern.
A United Nations panel offered a lightly veiled criticism of Trump, issuing a statement denouncing “failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn” white supremacists violence. Members of the panel said they were “deeply concerned by the example this failure could set for the rest of the world.”
Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, who is Jewish, considered leaving the administration over the president’s response.
“Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK,” Cohn said told The Financial Times. “I believe this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”
Cohn drafted a letter of resignation but decided to stay, according to The New York Times.
The RNC has chosen to focus on remarks that Trump read from the teleprompter on Aug. 14.
“Since our nation’s founding, the world has looked to America as a beacon of freedom,” said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in her address to the general session of the group’s meeting Friday. “We are that glimmer of hope to the rest of the world.”
Then she read portions of Trump’s Aug. 14 comments.
The White House reviewed the resolutions before they were passed by the RNC, including the one condemning white supremacy. A Trump spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about whether the White House suggested any modifications.
The RNC resolution says that the “racist beliefs” of “Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists and other like-minded groups are completely inconsistent with the Republican Party’s platform.”
The RNC resolution made no reference to the Antifa, a group of anarchist counterprotesters who were also on the scene in Charlottesville, but not accused of participating the attack that left Heather Heyer dead and the others injured.
Individual RNC members agreed with the president that they should be called out as well.
“There is very strong language in that resolution. It all happens to be true,” said Morton Blackwell, the RNC committee member from Virginia, who was the only person to discuss the resolution on the floor in the general session of the RNC’s summer meeting before it passed. “I’m pleased to say, I think obliged to say, that every person who came to Charlottesville that day intending violence was evil.”
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party said the resolution is not enough. “The Republican Party, led by President Trump, has cultivated a culture of hate through their rhetoric and policies,” said DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa.
In 1989, the Republican Party’s executive committee unanimously approved a resolution condemning David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who had won a seat in the Louisiana Legislature as a Republican.
Friday’s resolution condemning white supremacy was part of a package of 12 statements adopted by the RNC. All passed together on a single voice vote. Other resolutions included one supporting the Northeast Commercial Fishing Industry and one supporting legislation that would give Congress control of funding for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, a federal agency that Senator Elizabeth Warren was instrumental in creating.Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.