Much of the Trump presidency has been defined by the president’s uncanny ability tobring the GOP in tow, but in recent weeks—with the nation battling two separate crises and the White House response to the turmoil under scrutiny—members of the party have begun to distance themselves from the president in unprecedented fashion.
Few Republicans supported Trump’s highly controversial photo op in front of St. John’s Church (which was made possible only after protesters were cleared with tear gas and flash bangs) and several GOP senators “cringed” at Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning suggesting that a 75-year-old protester in Buffalo—who was shoved backward by the police and bled from his head after falling—might be a member of Antifa, Politico reported.
Trump’s ability to divide the country by discovering and exploiting wedge issues also appears to have lessened, as some Republican leaders and large swaths of the business community are openly supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and the White House instead focuses its efforts on the economy, and promoting “law and order,” as the president often tweets.
Hours after President Trump declared that his administration “will not even consider the renaming” of army bases named after Confederate generals, the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee privately adopted an amendment Wednesday for the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate generals from military assets within three years, CNN reported.
Several high-profile Republicans have recently said they will not support the president’s reelection bid, including former President George W. Bush, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the New York Times reports; Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters last week she’s “struggling” with whether to vote for the president in November.
The dissent from inside the GOP also comes on the heels of plummeting poll numbers for Trump: Trump’s approval rating has dropped ten points since May and has fallen below the 40% mark, according to the latest Gallup poll, and polling analysts say the president is in deep trouble come November.
He’s also facing dissent from the military: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark A. Milley said Thursday he “should not” have been at the church photo op; Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last week he was opposed to sending active-duty soldiers into American cities; and in a statement published in The Atlantic on June 3, former Defense Secretary James Mattis slammed the photo op and added he was “angry and appalled” that he has seen police officers “violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.”
Still, while Republicans are distancing themselves from the president on certain issues in recent weeks, few—besides Romney and possibly Murkowski—are jumping ship entirely, afraid doing so would lead to defeat during their next election, the Washington Post reports.
In a widely read statement published by The Atlantic, former Defense Secretary Mattis said he was “angry and appalled” that he has seen police officers “violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.” He also excoriated Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church. “We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution,” he said.
Trump swiftly attacked Mattis on Twitter, calling him the “world’s most overrated General.”
“I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!” Trump said.
Trump faced a similar erosion of support from the party establishment in October 2016, after the Access Hollywood tape was released. In the video, Trump openly bragged about forcing himself on women and said he could “grab them by the pussy.” Republicans denounced Trump’s remarks, and some said they would not vote for him for president. In the end, Trump weathered the storm and won the election weeks later.