The Republican National Committee on Friday approved a resolution condemning racism and white supremacy at its summer meeting in Nashville — but don’t call it a rebuke of President Trump.
“This has nothing to do with the president,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Bill Palatucci, an RNC committeeman from New Jersey. “This is the RNC saying that racism and bigotry have no place in America.”
Palatucci, an attorney who served as general counsel to Trump’s presidential transition committee, said that he began drafting the resolution Aug. 13, the day after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville ended with the death of a counterprotester.
“The core issue was for us as RNC members to clearly and loudly denounce white supremacists,” Palatucci explained. “There can be no hesitation for the Party of Lincoln.”
The resolution itself makes no mention of Trump or the president’s multiple reactions to Charlottesville, which led to three presidential advisory councils being disbanded as their members quit in protest.
Instead, it states that “the racist beliefs of Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists and others are completely inconsistent with the Republican Party’s platform,” and urges that “swift and certain justice be meted out to domestic terrorists.” Most of the remaining text focuses on the history of the party and the need for colorblind policy and politics.
“We recall that the Republican Party was founded in the struggle against slavery and a rejection of the racial beliefs underlying the institution of slavery,” the resolution reads. “The Republican Party subsequently led the fight to assure all human beings have equal standing before the law, promoting instead the foundational idea that each person be judged as an individual on merit and not on the color of skin or other circumstance of birth.”
The RNC’s resolution nonetheless breaks from the president by condemning white nationalists specifically and not dovetailing into criticism of the left. It’s the latest of several Republican responses that have taken that tone but have often been buried by coverage of the president.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel gave the party’s first official response to Charlottesville in a series of Aug. 12 tweets, and responded again at an Aug. 14 event in Detroit designed to demonstrate the party’s ongoing outreach to black voters.
“White supremacy, neo-Nazi, KKK and hate speech and bigotry are not welcome and [do] not have a home in the Republican Party,” McDaniel told reporters as black Republicans waited for a closed-press roundtable to begin. “This isn’t a partisan issue. This is an American issue.”
Over the next 10 days, Republicans in every state fended off questions about the president’s markedly different response to Charlottesville — condemning violence on “many sides,” attacking the “alt-left” and occasionally being congratulated by white nationalist leaders for his tone.
It was agonizing for Republicans who had tried, before Trump, to broaden the party’s appeal to nonwhite voters. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the highest-profile black Republican in Congress, told Vice News that Trump’s “moral authority” had been compromised by his Charlottesville response. Michael Steele, who as the first black RNC chairman had apologized for the GOP’s racial politics, said after Charlottesville that his party was making a grave error by defending Trump.
“In 2009, I declared the Southern Strategy of the GOP was dead. It was over,” Steele said on an Aug. 15 episode of his Sirius XM radio show. “I am sad to say that in the course of the 2016 campaign, that strategy was revived.”
Outside of the Opryland complex, other Republicans were engaged in an argument about what else the party needed to do. On Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters that a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, should be removed from the state capitol complex. But the leading Republican candidates for governor, including Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), stopped short of that, suggesting that the issue needed further debate in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Democratic National Committee accused Republicans of distracting from a crisis that they’d enabled long before Trump’s victory.
“The Republican Party, led by President Trump, has cultivated a culture of hate through their rhetoric and policies,” DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said. “A vote on a resolution doesn’t fix the systemic problems within the Republican Party. When will they take responsibility, denounce racism and stop pursuing divisive policies like voter identification laws and extreme immigration reforms?”
Republican officials, who entered the Nashville meeting celebrating a historic level of control in Washington and states, said that their resolution would at least clear up where they stood and where the president needed to arrive.
“I think the vote on the resolution will be unanimous and I support it,” said Steve Duprey, an RNC committeeman from New Hampshire. “I do think it is useful to remind America that our party condemns all of these hate groups, and that while the president may have not articulated it as well as he could have initially, he too has been forceful in condemning racists, supremacists, the alt-right, Nazis, and other hate groups.”