In a statement that has already been characterized as “scathing” and “powerful,” Mitt Romney called on the President to “take remedial action in the extreme” and “acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize” for his Tuesday statements during which Donald Trump said that there was “blame on both sides” for the deadly unrest in Charlottesville, Virgina.
Romney criticized Trump for failing to “forcefully and unequivocally” state that “racists are 100 percent to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville.” He added that Trump’s implicit endorsement of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that converged in Charlottesville over the weekend, leading to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, “caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep and the vast heart of America to mourn.” Romney continued:
Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis–who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat–and the counter-protesters who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association.
Romney joins a growing list of Republicans who, in the wake of the president’s inability to follow a standard presidential script condemning Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, denounced white supremacist hate groups. Included in that group are Senators Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Jerry Moran, and John McCain who have all rejected the president’s moral equivalencies on social media. Ohio Governor John Kasich called Trump’s statement’s “pathetic,” on the Today Show.
Romney’s seems to be the most emphatic of the statements; most follow a script that avoids using Trump’s name and reiterates a mythos that positions racism and bigotry as the antithesis to American values and history. Paul Ryan, for example, tweeted that “White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Mitch McConnell said something almost identical. In turn, nearly all of these men have been celebrated for their principled responses, for “denouncing” or “calling out the president,” for essentially taking a necessarily brave stance in troubled times.
If the celebration of Romney’s statement irritates, it’s because the president’s racism isn’t particularly new, nor is his alignment with groups that identify as white supremacists. The list is long and sadly familiar; his fantastically racist world is one in which immigrants are murderers and rapist and one where black teens should stay in jail after a wrongful conviction. The new wave of denouncing the president is also a familiar pattern in its own right. When a 2005 tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” leaked during his campaign, Republicans were quick to distance themselves and reassure the public that they would never say or do such things to women. And still, they all voted for him and largely agree with his policies. They still treat him as the leader of their party.
This isn’t to say that Republicans shouldn’t criticize the president, particularly when he’s endorsing neo-Nazis. But there’s something irritating in the subsequent celebration of these men, the perception that they are acting with boldness by simply stating that “Nazis are bad” or “racism is bad.” This isn’t a brave or principled stance, but it’s treated as such because Trump has so debased our standard political discourse. In doing so, he’s been effective at lowering the bar for his Republican colleagues who now are able to claim ideological purity by simply stating that racism and sexism are really, really bad but aren’t required to do anything about it.