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Trump aides worry he hurt hopes of defeating Flake

President Donald Trump upended the Arizona Senate race on Thursday by signaling support for an underdog primary challenger — a move that went against the wishes of his advisers and potentially undercut their efforts to unseat GOP Sen. Jeff Flake.

The president gave a shout-out on Twitter to Kelli Ward, a conservative former state senator running to take out Flake in a primary next year. Flake, of course, is a vocal Trump critic who refused to endorse the real estate mogul during the 2016 campaign and recently published an anti-Trump manifesto in which he accuses his party of enabling the Trump presidency. Trump, in turn, has threatened to spend millions to unseat Flake.

“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a nonfactor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted.

Trump aides were taken aback by the tweet. Many of them are deeply skeptical about Ward’s ability to defeat Flake. In 2016, Ward received 39 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful effort to unseat GOP Sen. John McCain. More recently, she came under fire for saying that McCain should step down from the Senate “as quickly as possible” after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

The White House has met with two other prospective Flake opponents, Arizona state treasurer Jeff DeWit, who was a top official on Trump’s campaign, and former state GOP chairman Robert Graham.

Some in the administration, meanwhile, have set their sights on another Arizona Republican, former GOP Rep. Matt Salmon.

David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager and the president of the prominent conservative group Citizens United, has spoken with Salmon, now an official at Arizona State University, about jumping into the contest, according to two people familiar with the talks.

In a brief telephone interview on Thursday afternoon, Salmon said he is currently abroad and not interested in joining the race. He declined to comment on his discussions with Bossie, who did not respond to a request for comment.

People close to DeWit and Graham were also surprised by the Thursday tweet and said the two prospective candidates had been given no advance warning that the president would be weighing in on Ward’s behalf. DeWit and Graham had been waiting for weeks for word from the White House about where the president stood and whom he wanted to support.

It is not the first time that Trump has caught his team off guard on political matters. Last week, the president announced on Twitter that he was endorsing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange in an upcoming special election, a move that directly contradicted the advice of aides who urged him to stay out of the fight, which has pitted establishment Republicans against the conservative base.

The Arizona developments come ahead of a rally Trump is set to hold in Phoenix on Tuesday. White House officials said they expect the president to highlight his opposition to Flake there.

The extent to which he promotes Ward at the event, however, remains unclear. Ward’s aides have made it clear they would like her to speak at the event, though rally organizers declined to say whether she would.

Ward has been aggressively positioning herself as a Trump backer. In recent days, she has hired two operatives who worked on a pro-Trump super PAC, Eric Beach and Brent Lowder, to work on her campaign. On Thursday, she sent out a tweet thanking the president.

“Working hard so you have a conservative from AZ to help #MAGA. Arizonans excited to see you again next week!” she added.

Ward’s aides said they hope to parlay Trump’s tweet into financial backing from his donors. On Thursday, she reached out to Doug Deason, a Texas businessman and the son of billionaire Darwin Deason, though he hasn’t committed. Her campaign announced the support of Bill Doddridge, a major GOP donor and jewelry company executive who funded a Trump 2016 super PAC.

Ward has already received help from Robert Mercer, the reclusive billionaire hedge fund manager who played a critical role in Trump’s 2016 win and remains close to the president. Mercer recently gave $300,000 to a pro-Ward super PAC, and it’s possible he will provide more.

Ward also had the support of Mercer in her 2016 campaign, and Breitbart, a pro-Trump website that Mercer funds, published a number of flattering stories about her.

Her backing from Mercer, along with Trump’s Thursday tweet, could chill the interest of other possible Flake primary challengers.

Trump has long disliked Flake. After the Arizona senator launched a national media tour to promote his book, which administration aides have been reading, the president privately vented about the senator. Before the election, Trump told associates he was willing to spent $10 million out of his own pocket to defeat Flake.

Trump’s move is certain to exacerbate tensions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has vowed to aggressively defend besieged incumbents like Flake in contested primaries. Flake is expected to receive the support of two McConnell-aligned political organizations, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund.

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CEOs to move their White House talks underground

Chief executives no longer want to appear in photo-ops with President Donald Trump following his race comments about Charlottesville, but that doesn’t mean they’re giving up on trying to shape his agenda.

There’s simply too much money at stake with tax reform, infrastructure and health care in play — billions of dollars in a tax overhaul alone — for corporations to disengage entirely with the White House or official Washington.

So while companies will rely less on direct access to Trump through advisory councils and meetings at the White House, their advisers and lobbyists still plan to engage with top White House aides such as Vice President Mike Pence or National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, political appointees at agencies, and Congress to make their case for rolling back regulations, keeping specific tax breaks, or cutting the corporate tax rate.

This will, in effect, push corporations’ lobbying efforts more underground than a public listening session at the White House, covered with fanfare by photographers and reporters. That’s an ironic twist, eight months into the administration, for a president who promised to “drain the swamp” during his campaign.

For now, the only part of the White House that is toxic to business leaders and companies is the businessman-turned-president himself.

“Businesses will continue to engage on the issues important to the American economy, just through different venues,” said Michael Steel, managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies, a public affairs firm that represents a number of financial services clients. “Many people in the business community are frustrated by the president’s words and tweets on Charlottesville, but that does not change the importance of policies that make life better for the economy and the American people.”

And one Republican lobbyist said he isn’t confident that legislative successes would quickly turn around many CEOs’ skittishness about being captured on film shaking Trump’s hand. “Imagine if we start passing legislation,” the lobbyist said. “In a few months, let’s say we pass a tax bill. Normally, we’d have a big rah-rah at the White House, but would CEOs even show up for a victorious event? Maybe not.”

A White House official downplayed the significance of the disbanding of the two business councils earlier this week, saying that the formal meetings in recent months had become less valuable.

In the months ahead, the administration plans to do calls and outreach to CEOs or companies on specific issues, the official added, similar to recent private calls it did this spring on STEM education, or modernizing government information technology.

The White House scrapped two of its business advisory groups, filled with CEOs, manufacturers, and trade association and labor union leaders, after several members dropped out or threatened to leave following Trump’s comments on Tuesday in which he blamed the Charlottesville violence on “both sides” and said that not all white supremacists were bad people.

On Thursday, the White House also said that its advisory council on infrastructure would not move forward.

For the president, the loss of public support from the business community knocks off another chunk of his base at a time when his approval ratings in the polls are dropping.

“The president needs friends, and one of his friends has dropped out of the room. In terms of political legitimacy, this has been a bad week for the White House,” said Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the Wharton School.

And by distancing themselves from the president over his failure to fully condemn hate groups, CEOs miss the chance to visit the Roosevelt Room to make subtle or nuanced suggestions on their pet issues, whether tax reform or health care or regulations.

“Historically, those sorts of visits and a spot on a presidential business council was considered coveted and a big deal,” Useem added. “Now, companies will not want to be seen with him.”

There’s no doubt that companies will continue to keep a firm toehold in Washington’s policy machinations, especially with tax reform on the horizon, a long-held Republican dream.

Groups like the Business Roundtable, which has pledged to spend millions of dollars in 2017 to push for a tax overhaul, are keeping their advocacy plans in place. “It is a priority of Business Roundtable to get tax reform done this year, and we remain committed,” said Jessica Boulanger, senior vice president at BRT.

This week, the level of angst among CEOs spiked after Trump called out the CEO of Merck on Twitter for dropping out of one of his business councils following the president’s handling of the Charlottesville protests. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of management at the Yale School of Management, said he’d spoken to 26 chief executives over the last three days, and they largely expressed the feeling that “they had a moral compulsion to act,” he said.

The business leaders’ decision to distance themselves from the president was made much easier by the fact that so few knew him personally, Sonnenfeld said. Nor did they consider him a peer, despite his boasts of his wealth and success in building his family real estate business.

“He was not a Fortune 500 CEO. The truth is: They don’t know him. He is not in their social circles,” Sonnenfeld added.

One lobbyist said the biggest loser is clearly Trump, given that CEOs and companies were the one constituency well-positioned to execute for him and help his agenda. Now, they too are off-limits. That is a hard truth for a president who has centered much of his campaign promises on increasing wages, growing the economy and bringing jobs back to the U.S. — all the while going to war with major U.S. employers like Intel, 3M, and GM.

For many of the blue-chip corporations caught up in the maelstrom this week, they’re simply catching up to the Silicon Valley tech companies that struck up a complicated relationship with the president and administration almost immediately, dating back to the January rollout of the immigration and travel ban that infuriated these companies that employ many workers on special visas.

Moving ahead, CEOs’ major worry is not wanting to get called out by the president in a tweet, or publicly criticized at a news conference. One D.C.-based crisis communications expert said that companies have had contingency plans in place since the election for that exact scenario.

In the meantime, the only thing that really changes between CEOs and Trump is that they’re no longer willing to “be the potted plant in the White House’s public relations campaigns,” Sonnenfeld said.

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White House aides squirm at Trump’s rhetoric but stay put

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell, have been unhappy with Trump’s rhetoric on race over the past week, according to a White House official. But neither of them is considering resigning — they have told people it is too serious and dangerous a moment in the world for them to simply walk away.

Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council and a former Democrat, told colleagues he was furious at having to stand by like a prop while Trump defended neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. But the former Goldman Sachs CEO has not yet vented that frustration publicly, and friends and colleagues said they assume he is staying on in order to be nominated chairman of the Federal Reserve. “Nothing has changed,” a second White House official said. “Gary is focused on his responsibilities as NEC Director.”

Trump’s longtime aide, Hope Hicks, who colleagues said is loyal to the president but not the nationalist program pushed by other aides, took a promotion the day after the president’s street brawl of a news conference. Assuming the position of interim communications director capped off an incredible rise for the 28-year-old political novice, who has never before held a job in Washington and in any other administration would likely not have been considered qualified for the post.

In the 48 hours following Trump’s explosive news conference from the marble lobby of his former Manhattan home — where he blamed “both sides” for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, killing a 32-year-old woman, and equated a counter-protest on the left with neo-Nazis and white nationalists — CEOs quit his business councils and Republican leaders in Congress denounced the president’s rhetoric. Two former Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, released a rare joint statement that did not mention Trump by name, but that took direct aim at his failure to “reject racial bigotry.”

Despite the growing public outcry, Trump is not, however, a man on an island: no White House official has yet resigned in protest, and in interviews with more than half a dozen administration officials, most aides said they did not expect any of their colleagues to cut and run.

It is rare to walk away from the power and prestige that comes with a White House badge and security clearance. In the weeks after the revelation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that tarred President Bill Clinton’s second term, many White House aides felt betrayed and angry at the president. Still, none of them resigned in protest.

“For several days a lot of folks didn’t even show up,” recalled Democratic pollster Mark Penn, who was part of the rapid response strategy team in the White House during the Lewinsky scandal. “Some issued their own statements and leaked self-serving comments. But in the end, everyone came back and eventually rallied around the president.”

Trump’s aides are not exactly rallying around him. But the interviews with administration officials, who did not want to speak on the record for fear of publicly disagreeing with the boss, showed that the majority of those offended by his comments are staying on in spite of him.

Their reasons for remaining, those interviewed said, range from personal ambition to feeling something like the designated driver at a drunken frat party.

“A lot of it is just making sure that things that are not fully baked or things that are not constructive don’t end up happening,” one senior White House aide explained of the rationale for soldiering on.

That echoed the thoughts of other officials, who said they believed that surrounding an erratic president with a professional team made for at least a shot at a functional government. Others cited work they could still achieve, even with a president whose temperament and embrace of Confederate symbols is dividing the party and at odds with their personal beliefs.

It’s rare that the Republican party controls the White House and both houses of Congress. And many aides said that despite the constraints, there remains an opportunity to move legislation, from tax reform to infrastructure. And despite the narrative that Trump serves as his own top strategist and communications director, White House aides have played key roles in defining and refining the president’s agenda, like helping to craft his well-received joint address to Congress, which laid out his domestic priorities.

Not everyone in the White House was horrified by Trump’s remarks. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has publicly lauded his “both sides” argument. Aides like Stephen Miller and Peter Navarro have long been propagating a nationalist program from inside the administration. And many loyalists on the outside were cheering him on — and even hoping that it would lead to a purge of the so-called “globalist” faction of the West Wing.

“I think the president helped himself. Boy, that would be great,” political operative Roger Stone, a longtime Trump loyalist said of the possibility of Cohn heading for the door in protest. “But I just don’t see the globalist contingent picking up and leaving — Gary wants to go to the Fed and probably will. Why not hang on for that appointment?”

Others with less ambitious goals than Cohn’s have justified remaining in Trump’s White House by telling themselves they are well-suited to the jobs they’re in, and that despite it all, they are still positioned to help bring about real, conservative change to the government.

And the less idealistic bunch have just grown jaded during their bumpy ride alongside Trump. The past week, multiple officials said, reminded t—hem of so many incidents in the past, from Trump’s attacks during the campaign on everyone from Judge Gonzalo Curiel, to Sen. John McCain, to the Gold Star father Khizr Khan. For those who lived through the mother of all Trump crises, the release last October of the “Access Hollywood” tape, the firestorm of a news conference was just another Tuesday.

“It’s always been like this,” said one aide. “I’m anesthetized.”

Eliana Johnson contributed to this report.

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Trump’s Confederacy fight threatens GOP agenda in Congress

Senior Republicans on Capitol Hill fear President Donald Trump’s eagerness to fight a Confederate-tinged culture war and his attacks on fellow Republicans are squandering precious political capital and imperiling their agenda in Congress.

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately need Trump to help them sell Republicans on a debt ceiling hike by the end of September — a toxic vote for conservatives. And they know they’ll need strong White House leadership to get tax reform over the finish line, a must-do for the conservative base after the embarrassing collapse of their Obamacare repeal effort.

But Trump is preoccupied lately with defending Confederate statues. He hailed some of the protesters fighting the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s likeness as “very fine people” — though they did so at a rally filled with white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Trump is also going after members of his own party who’ve criticized his response to the deadly Charlottesville protest — not exactly the team-building exercise needed at this moment.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, later adding: “Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

Republicans are practically pulling their hair out, frustrated over the leadership vacuum they say Trump is creating. The way they see it, the party is gearing up for one of the most politically precarious legislative stretches in recent memory. In addition to the debt ceiling and tax reform, GOP leaders need to avert a government shutdown, strike a long-term spending deal with Democrats and pass a budget that appeases conservatives and moderate Republicans — all in the next couple months.

There are also serious concerns about North Korean’s heightened aggression toward the U.S.

And yet, rank-and-file Republicans have had to drop what they’re doing to repudiate Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville, as have Cabinet members and military officials. Business leaders quit a presidential council en masse.

“I do think there need to be some radical changes,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker told reporters in Tennessee Thursday. “The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability or some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Without an immediate change in his leadership style, Corker added, “our nation is going to go through great peril.”

Top GOP tax writers on the House Ways and Means Committee met in Santa Barbara, Calif., Wednesday to pitch the merits of tax reform to the nation. National attention paid to the event paled in comparison to that focused on Trump’s divisive rhetoric — only the latest example of Trump’s controversies stealing the GOP spotlight.

“These constant tangents create distractions; they force our members to talk about statues and Nazis instead of tax reform,” one senior House GOP aide said Thursday. “Until this White House learns how to actually use the bully pulpit, they’re essentially useless.”

Added another senior GOP source: “The daily five-ring Trump circus hurts our ability to get things done.”

For dozens of Republicans, however, Trump’s recent words are about more than a mere distraction; they’re depriving the party of a much-needed leader.

Conservative lawmakers and outside groups, for instance, are already plotting their resistance to GOP leadership’s expected calls to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts. Ryan and McConnell will need Trump to give them political cover.

As Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the whip team, noted in a Thursday interview, Trump is “extremely popular” in deeply conservative districts. So if Trump wants a “clean” debt ceiling increase, he’ll have to be vocal about it and “do the whipping” to get conservatives on board.

Republicans also need Trump engaged and on their side to lock down GOP priorities in a spending deal they’re expected to strike with Democrats this fall. The government runs out of money on Sept. 30. And while leaders are eyeing a short-term patch to buy them more time, many expect an ugly, partisan shutdown fight this winter over Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

“We’re going to need him for a lot of things,” said Rooney, who’s still holding out for corresponding cuts for a debt ceiling increase. “We’re going to need him for tax reform, too. He needs to whip these votes, not just to members of Congress but to their constituents.”

But some Hill Republicans worry Trump will continue to be distracted by the controversy of the day.

“Trump is just making September that much more toxic,” said another GOP aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “How are we as Republicans supposed to maneuver through some major cliffs if he just sets the whole place on fire?”

During a Thursday morning tweetstorm, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham noted that Trump’s Charlottesville response was winning praise from racist and begged him to “for the sake of our nation — as our president — please fix this.”

Trump responded by attacking Graham as “publicity seeking” — and rubbing in the South Carolinian’s face his defeat in the 2016 GOP primary. “He just can’t forget his election trouncing,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

That was minutes before Trump shot arrows at Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who in recent weeks has urged Republicans to stand up to Trump. “Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted.

It was just the latest in a growing list of Trump attacks on Senate Republicans that have also drawn scorn from Hill GOP insiders. Between the jabs at them on Twitter and anger at the president’s reaction to Charlottesville, Republicans see an increasingly soured relationship between Congress and the president — one that could hurt tax reform and other GOP priorities.

Some Republicans felt the Obamacare repeal effort might have actually passed had Trump been more engaged in selling it and less obsessed with White House infighting that’s consumed all of Washington. Like with health care, Republicans can only afford to lose a few votes and still pass a GOP tax bill.

But without allies on the Hill, lawmakers may balk when Trump implores them to take tough votes for his agenda.

“The reality is that every time he attacks a Republican he invites another member in good standing and another segment of the Republican party to abandon him,” Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, told POLITICO Playbook on Thursday. “When you’re eight months in and Republicans are all you have left, chipping away at the remaining few is a helluva strategy.”

Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs at the Club for Growth, said Trump needs to be laser-focused on tax reform if he hopes to get a bill passed this fall. Tax reform, Roth said “is hard enough as it is.” And “in order to successfully pass tax reform, you need a large amount of unity and focus.”

Right now, Roth said, “there is a big concern” that unity just isn’t there — and that Trump is not doing enough.

“For tax reform to pass, we need the president to be talking about it every day and twice on Sunday,” he added. “He needs to go out across the country and push for it and fight for it and talk about it all the time. It’s the single-most important thing between now and the end of the year.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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Corker: Trump hasn’t shown stability or competence

Republican Sen. Bob Corker slammed Donald Trump on Thursday, urging the president to start putting the nation’s interests ahead of his own and calling for “radical changes” at the White House.

Speaking to local media in his home state of Tennessee, Corker admonished Trump for his response to the weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and said the president “has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.”

“I do think there need to be some radical changes,” the Senate Foreign Relations chairman said. “The president has not yet, has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. And we need for him to be successful. Our nation needs to be successful.

“He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today,” Corker continued. “He’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that. And without the things that I just mentioned happening, our nation is going to go through great peril.”

Corker, whom Trump considered as a possible secretary of state, urged the president to do some “self-reflection” and to start thinking not about what’s best for him as an individual, but what’s best for the country as a whole.

“I think our president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself, move way beyond himself, and move to a place where daily he wakes up thinking about what is best for our nation,” Corker said. “Helping inspire divisions because it generates support from your political base is not a formula for causing our nation to advance, our nation to overcome the many issues that we have to deal with right now.”

In addition, Corker took aim at Trump for using his Twitter feed to promote a Republican primary challenger to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

“The White House would be well-served to embrace the character, the substance, of someone like Sen. Flake,” Corker said. “He’s one of the finest people I’ve served with.”

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Trump dumps CEOs before more could abandon him

Some of America’s top CEOs were preparing to issue a statement criticizing the president — so he effectively fired them from a White House council first.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he was ending two business advisory councils amid a stampede of defections and after one of the groups had decided to disband over the president’s much-criticized response to the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.

A person close to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum said the group had already told the White House it had resolved to disband and condemn the president’s Tuesday claims that “both sides” were responsible for violence at a white supremacist and neo-Nazi gathering and that some “very fine people” were among the marchers defending a Confederate statue.

The group in a statement presented the decision as mutual with Trump, though EY CEO Mark Weinberger tweeted Wednesday that “we made the right call.” Members of the separate Manufacturing Council — which had already lost eight members this week — were due to hold their own call Wednesday.

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, ending the debate.

The split likely won’t change Trump’s agenda — the long-time real estate developer still intends to slash corporate taxes and regulations. And the White House said a separate group of government officials called the American Technology Council, which met with top Sillicon Valley executives and Trump in June, will keep working. Still, the break-up of the two high-profile CEO groups shows increasing pressure on business leaders to distance themselves from the White House and could hurt Trump’s standing with the pro-business, establishment wing of voters and donors in the Republican Party.

“There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws strength from our diversity and humanity,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said in a statement Wednesday after Trump disbanded the Strategic and Policy Forum to which he belonged. Dimon had weighed in on the events in Charlottesville over the weekend but had not criticized the president directly.

“It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart,” he said.

Executives historically have clamored to belong to White House business councils, which give them an opportunity to pitch the president behind closed doors.

Merck’s Kenneth Frazier — the first CEO to announce he was leaving Trump’s manufacturing council this week — repeatedly pressed Trump in private on reforming tax laws. Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris was initially granted a private sit-down with EPA head Scott Pruitt as the agency weighed a key regulation, though the meeting was trimmed down to a brief greeting.

In return, the executives served as surrogates for a White House trying to sell its pro-business message. Council members regularly flanked the president at a series of announcements and executive order signings. Executives like Campbell’s Soup CEO Denise Morrison told reporters they were optimistic about Trump’s effect on the economy. Dow donated about $1 million for the president’s inauguration.

The corporate backlash started Monday with Merck’s Frazier — the only African-American CEO on Trump’s manufacturing council — who said he was quitting “to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.” Within a day, the CEOs of Under Armour and Intel said they were leaving too.

The president on Tuesday called them “grandstanders” on Twitter and lashed out at Merck specifically. He claimed the defections wouldn’t hurt him.

“For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. However, no other CEOs publicly stepped forward to join the council, and five more leaders said they were leaving.

On Tuesday — before Trump’s news conference but after he took heat Saturday for blaming “many sides” for violence in Charlottesville — Morrison of Campbell’s said she planned to remain on the manufacturing council. Social media campaigns in response called the company a “Soup Nazi” in reference to the television show Seinfeld; another circulated altered photos of fake Campbell’s products called “Cream of Complicity” and “Swastika Soup.”

On Wednesday, Morrison said she couldn’t serve on the council any longer. “Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville,” Morrison said in a statement.

Others also flipped their stances. “The President’s most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said on Wednesday — less than 24 hours after telling reporters he planned to stay on the council so J&J would have a voice in high-level discussions.

Activists said the overnight campaigns and threats of boycotts motivated executives. Progressive groups have also pushed payment processing companies to cut ties with hate groups, collecting thousands of signatures on petitions, though Discover, Visa and Mastercard told POLITICO they had limited ability to force banks to cut off merchants conducting legal businesses.

“The collapse of the CEO councils is not due to an outbreak of conscience,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Instead, it is public pressure — pressure for the CEOs to evidence a measure of decency — that is driving them off the councils. That’s not exactly the most inspiring example of moral leadership. No profiles in courage here.”

Silicon Valley executives such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Tim Cook also met with Trump in June through the administration’s American Technology Council, which is technically made up of government employees. Still, activists like Weissman are calling on the affiliated executives to condemn Trump’s comments too.

Until this week, Trump had spent months praising the same executives who are now rebuking him.

“I want to thank these great business leaders,” Trump said in February, when Merck’s Frazier, J&J’s Gorsky, Campbell’s Morrison and other CEO advisers joined him for a signing ceremony on an executive order on regulatory reform. “They’re helping us sort out what’s going on, because … it’s been disastrous for business. This is going to be a place for business to do well and to thrive.”

Lorraine Woellert, Nancy Scola and Steven Overly contributed to this report.

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White House aides wrestle with Trump’s race comments

White House aides are wrestling with how to respond to President Donald Trump’s defiant news conference on Tuesday in which he doubled down on his statement that “both sides” are to blame for the Charlottesville violence and offered what some perceived to be overtures to white supremacists.

No aides had yet threatened to resign as of Wednesday morning, according to White House officials and advisers, but a number of White House staffers had private conversations on Tuesday night about how terribly the day went.

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who was standing near Trump on Tuesday for what was supposed to be a statement about infrastructure, was particularly displeased, according to people familiar with the matter, as the president launched into a rant about the culpability of the “alt-left” while calling some of the protesters at the white nationalist rally “very fine people.”

But there has been no word from Cohn about any plans to step down.

Still, White House aides say they were startled by the extensive comments, especially because Trump paid so little attention at the event to the intended focus of infrastructure, which is an issue the president often says he cares deeply about.

It also created an intensely awkward moment for new chief of staff John Kelly, who stood by in Trump Tower with a look of apparent pain on his face. Kelly has been trying to instill a sense of discipline in the West Wing and to introduce more efficient processes, but Tuesday starkly demonstrated how little control he has over a president who can easily blow up his own agenda.

Trump, however, was in “good spirits” on Tuesday night, according to a White House adviser who spoke to him. The adviser said the president felt the news conference went much better than his statement on Monday, in which he declared that “racism is evil” and denounced certain hate groups by name. Aides had pressured Trump to deliver the statement after his initial remarks on Saturday — in which he blamed “many sides” for the fatal protests in Charlottesville — set off a firestorm.

Another White House adviser said Trump has been telling people privately that he’s watched video of the Charlottesville protests, emphasizing to them that the counter-protesters had weapons as well, and insisting that he’s going to say what is right.

“People have tried to assuage him by saying, ‘You’re just not helping yourself.’ He doesn’t care,” the adviser said, adding that in some ways Trump would rather that people call him a racist than to say he backed down.

The president was not alone in his pleasure at the news conference. Chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose nationalistic views helped shape Trump’s presidential campaign, was thrilled with the remarks, according to a friend of Bannon. Even though Trump on Tuesday failed to offer full-throated confidence in Bannon, saying, “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” the controversy has brought some additional job security for the strategist, who has been on the outs with Trump and other White House aides.

In an attempt to shore up support for Trump, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller was planning to hold a call with surrogates later on Wednesday.

It’s unclear, though, whether Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who have been away on a trip to Vermont, will be able to exert some influence over the president. And there is a distinct feeling of a White House on edge, with aides and advisers unsure about the extent of the fallout, which included sharp rebukes from House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio.

“A number of people are on thin ice,” said a White House official, explaining how some aides feel they are at wit’s end.

There was a notable lack of Trump supporters defending the president on the Wednesday morning talk shows, as Republicans continued to distance themselves from the president’s remarks.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel offered some defense of Trump, saying the president clearly condemned hate groups.

“Well, the president condemned the white supremacists and the KKK and the neo-Nazis unequivocally,” McDaniel told anchor David Muir on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“But it took 48 hours for him to do that,” Muir replied.

“But he did it, and he should have, and he did. And our party across the board has said this is unacceptable. We have no place in our party at all for KKK, anti-Semitism, race — racism, bigotry, it has no place in the Republican Party,” she said. “There is no home here. We don’t want your vote. We don’t support you. We’ll speak out against you. The president has said so.”

McDaniel also tried to downplay the message from former KKK leader David Duke, who thanked Trump via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon “for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists.”

“Oh, I think that makes everybody’s stomach turn, and I think it makes the president’s stomach turn,” McDaniel said when asked about Duke’s online comment. She said Trump “has condemned David Duke. David Duke has nothing to do with the Republican Party.”

But other Republicans were emphatic about the damaging nature of Trump’s comments.

“Pathetic. Just pathetic, isn’t it?” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said on NBC’s “Today” show.

“This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kinds of hate groups,” Kasich added. “The president has to totally condemn this. It’s not about winning an argument.”

Louis Nelson contributed to this report.

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Rahm Emanuel rehabs his national profile

CHICAGO — Rahm Emanuel’s bungling of the Laquan McDonald shooting case in 2015 so sunk his stature with the African-American community, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be seen with him during her campaign stops in his city. With one crisis of violence in minority neighborhoods and another with police department morale, he had all but been silenced on national politics.

But 18 months after fighting off resignation calls and protests in the streets, the Chicago mayor has rediscovered his national voice — and with Donald Trump in the White House, he’s as emboldened as ever to use it.

He’s on CNN. He’s on The New York Times’ op-ed pages. He’s dispensing advice to top House Democrats on national campaign strategy. He’s jetting off to Milan and London to forge mayoral alliances while brashly picking fights with New York.

The biggest headlines have come from Emanuel’s decision to become the first big-city mayor to legally challenge Trump’s immigration policies.

“Chicago will not be blackmailed into changing our values, and we are and will remain a welcoming city,” Emanuel said last week when filing a lawsuit challenging the Justice Department’s threat to cut off federal funds to “sanctuary cities.” “The federal government should be working with cities to provide necessary resources to improve public safety, not concocting new schemes to reduce our crime fighting resources.”

His in-your-face resistance to the president prompted Trump ally Newt Gingrich to write an op-ed calling him the “Renegade Mayor of a Renegade City.”

And on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fueled the feud by repeatedly calling out Emanuel during a 30-minute speech in Miami on sanctuary cities.

“Rather than acknowledge soaring murder counts or the heartbreaking stories told by victims’ families, Chicago’s mayor has chosen to sue the federal government,” Sessions said. “For the sake of their city, Chicago’s leaders need to recommit to policies that punish criminals instead of protecting them. They need to protect their citizens and not the criminals.”

Emanuel shot back that he won’t “cave to the Trump administration’s pressure.”

“In a week in which the Trump administration is being forced to answer questions about neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the KKK, they could not have picked a worse time to resume their attack on the immigrants who see America as a beacon of hope,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel has always been best understood through two lenses — one national and one local — and now is no different. The former chief of staff to President Barack Obama and prodigious fundraiser has long known how to capture the spotlight by capitalizing on his relationships with national media and political figures. But that hasn’t erased his political hurdles back home.

The most serious scandal that threatened to sidetrack his mayoral ambitions happened in 2015 when details of the McDonald shooting death came to light. His office refused to make public the McDonald video until after a judge’s order, with Emanuel insisting he hadn’t viewed it and didn’t purposely keep it under wraps until after his reelection. A deep-seeded anger, going back decades, toward the police department was unleashed and pointed at the mayor. Protesters showed up outside his home. Some carried caskets around City Hall. Demonstrators shut down Michigan Avenue stores on Black Friday.

Emanuel has since had to walk a tightrope of tamping down the unrest and distrust of police while assuring his police force he had their backs. Since then, murders have surged and his administration has struggled to get a handle on relentless gang violence.

While McDonald protests have quieted, the anger in the black community still simmers. Just last week, an Emanuel speech was interrupted by a protester shouting “16 shots and a cover-up!” — a reference to the McDonald case. And local rap hero Chance the Rapper — whose father has worked with Emanuel — told thousands of fans at Lollapalooza to pressure politicians to put them first, then called out: “Come at me, Rahm!”

At the same time, Washington Democrats are looking to Emanuel — the architect of the 2006 Democratic House takeover — for a different reason: how to defeat Trump.

Emanuel recently traveled to Washington and spoke before the Democratic Caucus about how to win back House seats in 2018 and about strategy for dealing with Trump.

“He came and I got to tell you, I was pleasantly surprised, he was very well-received,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, a Chicago Democrat, said. “Given some of the residual — when he was chief of staff to the president — you know, Rahm’s not the warm and fuzzy type. It wasn’t a kind departure. And so I thought it was really good. As I’ve said, he’s improved.”

But has Emanuel turned the corner in his city? Gutiérrez hesitates before answering: “I think he works hard. He gets up every morning … It’s very hard for me to tell that it’s having an impact on Rahm Emanuel and the city of Chicago. I just haven’t thought of it that way — it’s just kind of day to day, you work. Day to day you grind it out,” Gutiérrez said. “You know that third term is always tough. It’s a tough one for him to go at. I think right now, I’m happy what he’s doing in standing up.”

Numerous Illinois Democrats contacted by POLITICO had the same review: They say he’ll likely outfundraise his opponents in 2019 but his polling numbers in the African-American neighborhoods remain lackluster.

Asked if he had yet healed the wounds in that community, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) answered: “No, I don’t think so. Overcoming the history of law enforcement in the city of Chicago and its relationship to the communities — I think that is going to take a lot of work. I don’t know that there’s even been enough time,” Davis said. “I think that there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, that’s been needed and perceptions that people have with law enforcement, that remains to be seen.”

Still, Emanuel has made strides in drawing national business headquarters to Chicago, is celebrating an increase in the city’s high school graduation rate, and last week announced huge gains in student test scores.

“He’s in better shape than he was a year and a half ago,” says former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, whose brother and father both served as Chicago mayors. “People today, if you’re an incumbent running for a third term, I don’t care who you are — there is a bad mood for incumbents and for people who run multiple times. It’s a year and a half away, he has time. But it’s a tough climate out there.”

As for Chicagoans, they don’t give a hoot about their mayor’s Sunday morning television sparring with the likes of Fareed Zakaria, they just want the violence to stop and their schools to open, says LaShawn Ford, a Chicago state legislator who introduced “Recall Rahm” legislation after a video of the McDonald shooting became public. That bill went nowhere, Ford said, stuck in a committee controlled by House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Chair Mike Madigan.

“If he wanted to make Chicago a sanctuary city — he would eliminate the violence, deal with mental health and drug intervention. If he wants to repair his image, that’s what he should be focusing on. While we’re starting a fight with the federal government, people are dying in the city of Chicago,” Ford said. “He wants to put himself on a national stage — that’s not what this city needs, the city needs someone who is going to dedicate himself to the city. Mayor Daley never, ever worried about that stuff.”

Emanuel takes stories to the national press because, supporters complain, he can’t get a fair shake in the local media. And they say, he gets regular invites from cable channels but is selective in which ones he actually appears on. The city voters he’s after may not subscribe to national publications or even watch CNN, but the coverage has another life on social media, which does get the mayor’s message to his target audience, according to one of the mayor’s strategists.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Emanuel remains engaged in national issues but always from the standpoint of his city.

“Rahm is one of the smartest people I know, and for him, it starts and stops with Chicago. He’s always calling me up with great ideas that are relevant to Washington, but it always goes back to helping Chicago — particularly on issues like infrastructure and healthcare,” Schumer said in an email.

Emanuel supporters are hopeful his role as a Trump foil on issues like the environment (the city of Chicago posted the Environmental Protection Agency’s deleted climate change information on its website) and in the sanctuary city fight could be what breaks through to his constituencies.

Days after a train derailment in New York and ongoing transit delays in Washington, D.C., Emanuel penned an op-ed for The New York Times in which he exalted Chicago’s “modernized” transportation system and boasted of an 85 percent passenger satisfaction rate. Further calling out the differences between the three metropolitan cities, he pointed to Chicago’s modernization of existing transportation as “one reason Chicago’s economy has expanded faster than the economies of New York and Washington, and faster than the national average for the last five years.”

New Yorkers immediately took offense to Emanuel’s comments, criticizing him for going after other cities’ transit snafus — on a national platform — while he faces increasing rates of violence and homicide at home in Chicago. “Congratulations to Chicago for having a transit system that’s so popular with its passengers. Now try getting them home without anyone getting shot,” the New York Daily News responded, running the headline “DUMB TRACK MIND” next to a photo of Emanuel.

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Regime Change in Charlottesville

Statues are often among the first casualties of regime change. In July 1776, a mob of patriots attacked a statue of King George III that stood in Lower Manhattan, hacking it up to melt into bullets for the Continental Army.

In April 2003, television networks around the world showed joyous Baghdad citizens toppling a gigantic bronze Saddam Hussein, providing an iconic image of the Iraqi dictator’s fall. (The U.S. military had delivered sledgehammers, rope, a large crane, manpower, the press pool, and a great deal of encouragement — a story that didn’t fully come to light until many years later.)

Sometimes the regime change takes a little longer. That’s how we should look at images of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson being lifted through the night sky in Baltimore; of protesters stomping on a Confederate soldier statue in Durham, N.C.; and of alt-right battalions storming Charlottesville to rescue a doomed Lee memorial. It should also shape how we read President Trump’s defiant response to the violence in Charlottesville.

Just like in 1776 and 2003, the regime that’s toppling right now — or at least teetering — is the same one that built the monuments. But that regime isn’t the Confederate States of America, which already toppled pretty conclusively back at Appomattox in 1865. The statues — like countless others across the South — were erected not under the stars and bars of the Confederacy, but instead under the stars and stripes of the United States.

The current fight is only partly about the true meaning of the Civil War and the deeds or misdeeds of men in gray coats. Those statues went up for other reasons, and the argument today is about why we, as a nation — the reunited U.S.A. — put those monuments up in our public spaces in the first place. Most important now, it’s about why we have let them stay there for so long.

* * *

The statues in Charlottesville and Durham were both installed in the midst of a Confederate monument-building campaign that lasted for decades and took place long after the war it commemorated. In fact, both were unveiled in the very same month: May 1924.

That’s more than coincidental. The Civil War was still not so distant: any black Southerner over sixty had probably been born a slave. The last veterans were in their eighties and nineties, and their passing loosed a gush of “greatest generation”-style nostalgia in both North and South. Photographs of statue dedications on Confederate Memorial Day (still an official holiday in six southern states) show white-mustachioed men in fading uniforms, holding ceremonial trowels.

Perhaps equally relevant, though, are period photographs of more chilling celebrations: thousands of white-hooded men marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, and burning crosses at enormous gatherings in both North and South.

In the early 1920s, America was in the grip of a huge revival of the Ku Klux Klan. Its recruits were responding partly to the growing movement for black civil rights, which had been emboldened by the millions of African Americans who had contributed to the U.S. victory in World War I. Many native-born whites also felt threatened by the immigrants who were once again landing in large waves at Ellis Island — and competing for jobs in the tight postwar labor market. 1924 was the year of the infamous Immigration Act, which almost shut down entry for Jews, Italians, Greeks, and other “undesirable” groups, while completely excluding everyone from an “Asiatic Barred Zone.”

The 1920s Klan was itself a kind of Civil War reenactment. The original organization of white-robed Confederate veterans had lain dormant since the Reconstruction era, but was revived by the Hollywood epic “Birth of a Nation.” The new Klan was far larger and more pervasive, claiming as many as five million members. In Charlottesville, a newspaper reported that the local chapter “numbers among its members many of our able and influential citizens, and it is here to stay.” In Durham, a local “Grand Dragon” made headlines in April 1924 when he spoke before an audience of more than a thousand people in nearby Raleigh. The Grand Dragon — who made no effort to hide his identity under a hood— also happened to be a judge on the North Carolina superior court.

Nationally, too, the Klan was flexing its political muscle, with both of the major parties steeling themselves for controversy at their upcoming presidential nominating conventions. At the Democratic one, in New York, conservatives defeated a platform resolution condemning recent Klan violence, winning by three votes. Hundreds of triumphant delegates joined a vast crowd of hooded celebrants at a cross-burning rally known as “the Klanbake.” This is the context in which one Southern city after another erected statues to the heroes of a war that had ended 60 years earlier.

The springtime dedications of Confederate statues in Charlottesville and Durham weren’t like those rallies: No hooded Klansmen marched. That was part of their implicit appeal. The Confederate nostalgia embodied in the statues offered a soft-serve version of racial domination, one whose public image involved girls in white dresses laying bouquets of flowers, not men in white sheets burning crosses. The hardliners, robes off, joined the celebrations. So did the moderate, pro-business boosters of the New South, some of whom publicly condemned the Klansmen as “terrorists,” while pointing out that “only” 16 Americans were lynched in 1924, down from 57 in 1922. Dreamy images of Southern sentimentalism set plenty of hearts aflutter among white Northerners, too, and in the national press.

What Confederate monuments offered, by framing their purpose as a familiar lionization of war heroes, was a kind of white supremacism that everyone could rally around. (In a few communities, organizers went so far as to recruit a few handpicked African Americans to march at the back of the parade.) It also laid claim to a history that didn’t belong to the new immigrants: if the Civil War was truly America’s defining moment, what did it mean if your family hadn’t been there?

But the monument builders’ vision wasn’t backward-looking and parochial — quite the opposite. It was to build a triumphant American future on the ideas that had been defeated in the war. At the Charlottesville statue’s dedication, one of the two keynote speakers extolled Lee as “the idol of every Southern heart — aye, of every human heart, North and South, East and West.” Gazing up at a Confederate flag that flew nearby, he hailed it as “that starry flag of the world’s heart and hope, that shall yet float in universal triumph over land and sea.” The other keynoter called Lee “an ideal of a whole land” who “symbolized the future.”

Those two speakers weren’t Grand Dragons of the KKK: they were the presidents of Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia. Both institutions barred African Americans. And not only were Charlottesville’s public schools segregated in 1924, the town didn’t even have a high school for black citizens: authorities considered a ninth-grade education sufficient.

Monuments mark public spaces like dogs mark trees: This place is ours, they say. It is no accident that the Durham statue, like so many others in county seats across the South, was installed in front of the courthouse — a place where sentences were decreed. Such sentences weren’t always handed down by judges and juries. Throughout the long, awful saga of mass lynchings in America, mobs treated courthouse lawns as ideal places to make public statements. In front of a Texas courthouse in May 1922, a crowd of whites tied a young black man to a stake and burned him alive.

Even southern leaders who condemned such barbarity made it clear that they weren’t speaking up for black civil rights. After a 1919 lynching not far from Durham, the governor of North Carolina admonished citizens: “All the power and all the processes of the law are in the hands of white men, and yet this mob savagely denied to a helpless negro prisoner the right to stand before a white judge and a white jury and receive a white man’s justice.”

That was the power structure that the monument-builders expected to endure. When one of the Charlottesville speakers closed his address with an image of the statue’s enduring place among future generations —“here it shall stand during the ages at the center of their lives” — he wasn’t talking about the 1860s. He was talking about us.

* * *

When has America not faced a critical moment in its history of racial strife? Practically every year out of the past 400 can be tagged with one dismal milestone or another. The citizens of Baltimore installed their monuments in 1887 (blacks barred from major-league baseball), 1903 (new Jim Crow laws and voting disenfranchisement across the South), 1917 (white mobs in East St. Louis kill forty African Americans, launching a six-year nationwide spree of race riots), 1948 (Strom Thurmond’s “Dixiecrats” leave the Democratic Party and nominate him for president).

White dominion has hardly vanished in 21st-century America. Just look at a roster of corporate CEOs, or Trump appointees, or congressional leadership in both parties. Every year still has its dismal milestones. Yet for the past half century or so, each year has brought happier milestones as well, most notably 2008, with the election of an African- American president.

As the nation grows browner and browner, the fantasy of white supremacist unanimity—the dream that placed those marble Confederates across the South—seems increasingly far-fetched. The justice dispensed in American courthouses and prisons is still a long way from race-blind: when black defendants stand before white judges, as they usually do, they often receive disproportionately harsh sentences. But today sometimes white defendants stand before black judges, too, a scenario that would have been unthinkable in 1924.

Trump’s presidency is a kind of rearguard action for an America that used to be; his whole campaign promised a “greater,” whiter America that looks a lot like 1924. The right-wing extremists’ chant in Charlottesville, “You will not replace us,” captures his entire political message in five words. So it should be no surprise when he reflexively defends Confederate monuments and suggests that Lee and Jackson are no different from Washington and Jefferson—ignoring the fact that two of those built the nation, and the other two fought to rip it apart.

Nor is it so surprising that anti-racism activists, seeking to keep the momentum rolling in the face of major setbacks, should try to gain ground by toppling the surviving monuments of white supremacy.
The statues have stayed up for so long because, like so many other features of our everyday landscape, they became so familiar that we hardly even noticed they were there. Some might say the same thing happened with white supremacy: pervasive, familiar, and — at least to many whites —invisible.

Ironically, today’s white supremacist defense of Confederate monuments — and the president’s support — will likely hasten their demise. When neo-Nazis with torches rally around old statues, they highlight precisely the thing their sponsors in the 1920s were trying to veil with history. Suddenly those statues are no longer invisible features of the American landscape. Literally or figuratively, they’re silhouetted against a backdrop of flames.

Less extreme nationalists who defend the statues — including President Trump —are likewise doing themselves no favors. If they’re arguing for the inherent superiority of “Western civilization” and the purity of America’s democratic heritage, do they really want to take selfies alongside guys who led a massive pro-slavery insurrection against the United States, killing three quarters of a million people in the process?
If toppling Confederate statues is indeed part of a long, super-slow-motion regime change, that’s reason for optimism, no matter what the president says. Will the removals in Baltimore, Durham, and Charlottesville ultimately look like the one in Baghdad, which didn’t deliver what it promised? Or will it resemble the hacking-up of King George, which heralded a lasting, if still imperfect, revolution? Maybe it’s too soon to say. But my money’s still on 1776.

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Joint Chiefs close ranks in condemning racism

Nearly all of the nation’s top military leaders unequivocally condemned racism in public messages Wednesday, posing a stark and unusual contrast to President Donald Trump’s remarks that both white supremacists and counterprotesters were equally to blame for the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

The brass did not mention Trump specifically but made clear they would not tolerate racism in the ranks, after it was revealed that some former troops attended and helped organize the deadly white supremacist rally that singled out minorities and Jews.

Dillon Ulysses Hopper, who helped to organize the protest in Charlottesville, reportedly served in the Marine Corps, including tours overseas and time as a recruiter. James Alex Fields Jr., who is accused of running over counter protesters with his car, killing one woman, also reportedly washed out of Army basic training. And NBC reported Wednesday that a leading neo-Nazi recently re-tweeted by Trump is an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve whose security clearance has been revoked.

“The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks,” Army Chief Gen. Mark Milley tweeted early Wednesday, one of a number of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to feel the need to restate the military’s commitment to diversity. “It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.”

He was joined by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, the only member of the Joint Chiefs who is Jewish, who tweeted that “we’re always stronger together.”

The charge was led by Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, who after the clashes on Saturday posted on Facebook that the Navy “will forever stand against intolerance and hatred.”

By Wednesday, virtually all the top military brass weighed in.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller lent his voice, tweeting “No place for racial hatred or extremism” in the Marines.

“Our diversity is our strength,” added Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard.

Over the years the military has periodically had problems with troops who have ties to white supremacist groups, some of which have encouraged their followers to join the armed forces, said Jason Dempsey, a former Army officer who is now a researcher at the Center for a New American Security.

He said he believes the generals’ recent statements condemning racism are not intended to take on Trump directly but to ensure that the controversy does not harm morale.

It “most likely had to do with how does the force react, and is it going to cause issues with good order and discipline with having military paraphernalia and some military emblems being seen at a white nationalist rally,” he said. “Normally, if this was any other issue, the chiefs would absolutely stay silent, even if they thought it was going to threaten good order and discipline. It’s a combination of a threat to good order and discipline and the fact that this is all kind of settled by law.”

Trump initially took heat for a statement Saturday in which he blamed “many sides” for the violence. On Monday, he sought to remedy that, condemning the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and saying “racism is evil.”

But after he was criticized for the delay, Trump let loose in a news conference Tuesday in which he said there were “very fine people” among those marching in protest of the planned removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, and he defended monuments to Confederate figures.

Military leaders, however, are clearly seeking to distance their organizations from the rally’s participants, some of whom wore military regalia.

For example, the 82nd Airborne Division, whose paratroopers fought Nazis during World War II, condemned a man at the Charlottesville rally wearing a hat with the unit’s insignia.

“Anyone can purchase that hat,” the 82nd Airborne wrote on Twitter. “Valor is earned.”

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