IN THE wake of President Trump’s stunning defense of white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Republican politicians and members of the administration are coming under increasing pressure to distance themselves from the president. For officeholders and candidates, it is past time. For people inside government, the calculation is more complicated.
Mr. Trump’s comments Tuesday gave comfort to racists and hatemongers. After white supremacists chanted anti-Semitic slogans and brandished Nazi salutes in a rally that culminated in the murder of Heather Heyer, 32, and the wounding of 19 others, Mr. Trump found “blame on both sides” and “very fine people, on both sides.” Members of Mr. Trump’s party, from Virginia gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie up to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), ought to have no difficulty saying that a person who holds such views is not fit to be the nation’s leader.
But what about administration insiders? So far, a handful of business and union leaders have resigned from White House advisory councils, prompting Mr. Trump on Wednesday to announce that he was abolishing two groups. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.com and owner of The Post, has visited the White House as a member of a separate technology advisory council.) We admired Kenneth C. Frazier, the CEO of drugmaker Merck, when he became the first to quit after Mr. Trump found fault on “many sides” of the Charlottesville events. Mr. Frazier acted on principle, and Mr. Trump promptly lashed out at him on Twitter.
But is the country better off without the councils? You could argue there was a marginal advantage in Mr. Trump hearing from businesspeople who, for example, believe climate change is real and trade is beneficial. On the other hand, the councils didn’t seem to have much impact. Their disappearance probably won’t matter much one way or another.
The resignation of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, on the other hand — or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis or national security adviser H.R. McMaster — might matter a lot. Mr. Kelly, in particular, who stood impassively to one side as Mr. Trump went on his Tuesday tirade, is being extensively analyzed, advised, prodded and deplored. We didn’t find anything to regret when his predecessor, Reince Priebus, left the scene. Mr. Priebus, first as Republican National Committee chairman and then as White House chief, had been primarily a Trump enabler. “Winning is the antidote to a lot of things,” he famously said in February 2016.
Maybe the same is true of Mr. Kelly; it’s hard to know from the outside. But maybe the former Marine general is trying to bring order to the White House in ways that could reduce the risk of unintended war or uncontrolled crisis. Mr. Mattis, similarly, seems to be trying to keep things from spinning out of control in Northeast Asia; Mr. Tillerson has tried to prevent a counterproductive rupture of the nuclear deal with Iran; Mr. McMaster is trying to forge a strategy for Afghanistan. Each of these men must consider, every day, whether they are maximizing whatever leverage they have for the good of the country, and whether their accomplishments justify whatever “normalizing” benefit their presence conveys on their chief executive. As long as they can answer yes, we think they should be thanked, not condemned.