Charlottesville was apparently the game changer.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had his problems with President Trump before the violence in the Virginia city in August, in which a counterprotester was killed during a white supremacist rally organized in defense of Confederate statues. But it is when Trump blamed both sides for the unrest — white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us” and the activists condemning them — that Corker's critiques of the president gained momentum.
Trump waited two days to specifically condemn the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups that had organized the Unite the Right rally. Then, a day later, he reiterated what he had said in his initial, widely criticized remarks about the violence. “I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said at a news conference Aug. 15 in the lobby of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan.
“What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right,' do they have any semblance of guilt?” he asked. “What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”
“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now,” added Trump, who supports leaving Confederate memorials in place.
The majority of Americans — 56 percent — viewed Trump's response poorly, but the majority of GOP lawmakers were silent.
Corker, however, warned that if Trump does not change his behavior — behavior that many white supremacists viewed favorably — that “our nation is going to go through great peril,” reported The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan.
“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” the senator told reporters in Tennessee. “And we need for him to be successful.”
Corker also said that Trump “recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced Tuesday that he will not seek reelection and took Trump to task in a Post op-ed, even alluding to his controversial comments after the Charlottesville unrest.
“How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off,” Flake asked.
“Nine months of this administration is enough for us to stop pretending that this is somehow normal, and that we are on the verge of some sort of pivot to governing, to stability,” he added. “Nine months is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough.”
If Flake, Corker and other GOP lawmakers are looking to Trump to change his views — or at least his public comments — on race in America, they may not want to hold their breath. Even after Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — the only black Republican in the Senate — met with Trump at the White House after criticizing his comments on Charlottesville, the president doubled down.
“I think especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that’s what I said,” Trump said, referring to the anti-fascist protest movement.
As both Corker and Flake have articulated, Trump's words on race aren't the sum of why the senators have spoken out against him. But if the two are truly concerned about the president's views on race, they may want to look beyond the White House.
Most white Americans, Republicans and Americans over age 65 — all groups Trump won in the 2016 race — agree with his views on Confederate monuments and reject liberals' arguments that these memorials glorify white supremacy.