The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans are even avoiding Fox News when asked to talk about Trump and Charlottesville

After President Trump's rhetoric on the Charlottesville violence inflamed more criticism, a handful of GOP lawmakers are speaking out while many stay silent. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Congress is in recess, but Republicans are in hiding, apparently unsure how to answer questions about President Trump's response to last weekend's violence in Charlottesville — and unwilling to try.

“We invited every single Republican senator on this program tonight — all 52,” Chuck Todd said on MSNBC's “MTP Daily” on Wednesday. “We asked roughly a dozen House Republicans, including a bunch of committee chairs, and we asked roughly a half dozen former Republican elected officials, and none of them agreed to discuss this issue with us today.”

That's about 70 rejections altogether, and other news anchors had the same experience on Wednesday — even on Fox News.

“Our booking team — and they're good — reached out to Republicans of all stripes across the country today,” Shepard Smith told his viewers. “Let's be honest: Republicans often don't really mind coming on Fox News Channel. We couldn't get anyone to come and defend him here. Because we thought, in balance, someone should do that. We worked very hard at it throughout the day, and we were unsuccessful.”

Trump a day earlier had doubled down on his position that “both sides” — white supremacists and counterprotesters — were responsible for the violence, and again seemed to draw a moral equivalence between the groups.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer and Kate Bolduan recounted their bookers' struggles to line up interviews with Republicans. Blitzer came up empty; Bolduan landed one — out of 55 requests.

There are two ways to view Republicans' shyness. It is significant that they are refusing to stand up for the president, ostensibly the head of their party. Yet it is also notable that so few, even those who have issued critical statements, are unwilling to elaborate in an interview setting.

A poll published Wednesday by NPR, PBS and Marist College offers insight into possible reasons. While a majority of Americans said the president's response to Charlottesville has not been strong enough, only 19 percent of GOP voters expressed that view; 59 percent of Republicans said Trump's words have been sufficient.

By a 40-point margin, Republican voters are generally satisfied by the way Trump has handled Charlottesville. Republican politicians risk alienating those voters, if they come down too hard on the president.

The politically safe move, it appears, is to run for cover.