Most Republicans support Trump as he attacks GOP senators who criticized his defense of bigotry

Twitter as a tool of intimidation.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

On Thursday morning, CBS released new polling showing that 66 percent of Republicans approve of President Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville attack — a response that included Trump morally equating white supremacists and those who gathered to protest them during a Tuesday news conference, saying there were “very were fine people on both sides.”

Also on Thursday morning, Trump viciously attacked two Republican senators who are among the minority of Republicans who disapprove of his handling of Charlottesville — Lindsey Graham (SC) and Jeff Flake (AZ).

Notwithstanding his actual remarks, Trump tweeted that he’s “publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists [and] people like Ms. Heyer.” Heather Heyer is the woman who was murdered on Saturday by an alleged Nazi sympathizer who drove his car through a crowd of people gathered to protest white supremacy. Trump’s initial response that day was to pin blame on “many sides.”

On Wednesday, Graham released a statement saying Trump “took a step backward by again suggesting [on Tuesday] there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer. I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency. Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.”

Trump blasted Graham’s comments as “a disgusting lie,” adding that the “just can’t forget his election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember!”

Less than 10 minutes after concluding that thought, Trump took a shot at the media, baselessly accusing journalists of “totally misrepresent[ing] what I say about hate, bigotry etc” by reporting on his comments at the Trump Tower news conference he called on Tuesday.

Trump then took aim at Flake, who in recent weeks has emerged as one of the most outspoken anti-Trump Republicans in the Senate. This week, Flake has been critical of Trump’s defense of white supremacists, tweeting on separate occasions that “We can’t accept excuses for white supremacy & acts of domestic terrorism” and “We can’t claim to be the party of Lincoln if we equivocate in condemning white supremacy.”

Trump made clear he will support Flake’s opponent in the primary election.

After Senator John McCain was diagnosed with cancer, Ward called on his to “step away as quickly as possible, so that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward.” She added that she’d like to be appointed to his seat.

Though a strong majority of Republican voters approve of Trump’s response to Charlottesville, most GOP members of Congress have said nothing. Most of those who have commented on Trump’s defense of white supremacists have done so indirectly. Republican members of Congress have refused to go on TV — even on Fox News.

Trump’s tweets seem intended to intimidate Republican members of Congress, most of whom will face voters next year, into remaining silent.

But Graham isn’t up for reelection next year, and following Trump’s Thursday morning tweets, he released a statement reiterating his criticism of the president. “Mr. President, like most I seek to move our nation, my state, and our party forward — toward the light — not back to the darkness,” it says.

While a majority of Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of Charlottesville, a majority of Americans do not. The CBS poll indicates that across party lines, 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s response to Charlottesville, compared to 34 percent who approve.