Charlottesville puts Trump on the brink: US President increasingly isolated as Christians, generals and staffers condemn his response
Donald Trump's grip on the presidency appeared to be slipping today as a handful of white evangelicals joined two senior military generals and a series of White House staffers in condemning him over his disastrous handling of the Charlottesville violence.
Trump appeared increasingly isolated as Mark A Milley, the US Army Chief of Staff, said on Twitter: 'The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It's against our values and everything we've stood for since 1775.'
Another senior officer, General Robert B Neller, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, also appeared to counter Trump's comments. 'No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honour, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act,' he wrote.
Elsewhere on Twitter, Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty of the Southern Baptist Convention, led a clutch of white evangelicals who are condemning Trump's equivocation between racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism on the one hand, and what he has termed the 'alt-left' on the other.
Moore has at the top of his Twitter feed a 'pinned tweet' from June 14, saying: 'The so-called Alt-Right white supremacist ideologies are anti-Christ and satanic to the core. We should say so.'
And this week he retweeted with an 'Amen' to the Gospel Coalition who wrote: 'Christians should look at white nationalism movement and condemn it – full stop. No, "But on the other hand."'
Meanwhile, the evangelical author and founder of Word of Life church Brian Zhand went further, saying: 'Celebrity evangelical leaders defending Trump's defense of racist white nationalism is perhaps the lowest moment in evangelical history.'
In another tweet, he wrote: 'One of the most vital things an American Christian can do right now is resist the hijacking of Christian faith by American nationalism.'
Elsewhere, Beth Moore, the evangelist and founder of Living Proof Ministries wrote: 'We cannot renounce what we will not name. It's called White Supremacy. And it is from hell. Call it. Condemn it.'
The evangelical theologian Greg Boyd said: 'The smoldering racism in this country has gotten a dose of gasoline today. My concern for nonwhites in this country continues to intensify.'
And Katelyn Beaty, the evangelical writer and editor at large of Christianity Today, said on Twitter: 'On Trump & Charlottesville, recently heard the defense, "He's not a pastor!" Like, condemning racism is a special function of the clergy?'
She also pointed out that: 'Jerry Falwell Jr. still has not said anything about Charlottesville. His last tweet was about Liberty football.'
The series of tweets came as Reuters reported today what it called 'rising speculation that some top officials may be looking for a way out'.
A parade of business executives broke ties with Trump yesterday, with the speculation now centring on White House aides. 'Trump's remarks have left some wondering if sticking by the president comes at too high a cost to their reputations,' according to Reuters.
'A lot of us joined this administration thinking we could bring to it the experience and expertise that the president didn't have an opportunity to gain in his business career, and to encourage some restraint in what he says publicly and to our allies,' said one senior official who is contemplating whether to resign.
'After yesterday, it's clear that there is no way for anyone, even a Marine general, to restrain his [Trump's] impulses or counter what he sees on TV and reads on the web.'
Trump had hoped that the retired General John Kelly, Trump's new chief of staff, could impose some form of discipline on Trump that his predecessor, Reince Priebus, could not.
But Kelly stood with his eyes fixed on the floor when Trump veered off-script at his Manhattan office tower on Tuesday. The president accused the protesters, who rallied against neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, of being 'very, very violent'.
In the uproar that followed, chief executives at companies such as Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N), Under Armour Inc, Intel Corp, Campbell Soup Co and 3M Co quit advisory councils to the White House. Trump then dissolved the councils.
The exodus of executives sparked talk that Gary Cohn, Trump's top White House economic adviser and a key liaison to the US business community, might resign in protest as well.
Cohn, who is Jewish, was upset by Trump's remarks, though he is remaining with the administration for now, sources said.
Cohn, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, stood by Trump during his remarks at Trump Tower on Tuesday. Cohn in particular looked self-conscious and uncomfortable.
'He just did not want to be in that position...and he was not good at hiding his body language for that,' said a former administration official who knows Cohn.
Cohn did not comment on the President's language.
David Shulkin, the US secretary of Veterans Affairs, told reporters on Wednesday that as a Jewish American, he was 'outraged' by neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups and felt obliged to speak out against them.
'I am not going to condone in any way the behaviour of Nazis. I believe this clearly cannot be tolerated,' Shulkin said when asked about whether it was appropriate to compare the actions of the white nationalists to the protesters opposing them.
Cohn, who came to the White House from a successful career at Goldman Sachs Group Inc, is reportedly mindful of the effect his Trump tenure could have on his professional reputation.
'He's worried about his reputation being trashed, which is much more valuable to him than anything else,' the former administration official said.
Cohn has served as a point man on top White House priorities such as tax reform and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, but both of those efforts have been muddled by Trump's increasingly combative relationship with Congress, one that was strained even further by his comments on Charlottesville.
Cohn's departure would further set back those efforts and perhaps give the upper hand in the White House to a group of advisers seeking to scale back foreign trade, said a Wall Street executive who asked not to be named.
'Gary knows he's a moderating influence,' the executive told Reuters. 'It may give you short-term satisfaction to see Gary go, but it may be bad for the country in the long term. The calculation is: What do you think is best for the country versus what's best for Gary?'
Steve Bannon, the controversial White House senior adviser with close ties to far-right groups, told the American Prospect in an interview published on Wednesday that he constantly butts heads with Cohn over issues such as trade with China. 'That's a fight I fight every day here,' Bannon said.
Cowan and Company, a financial services firm, said on Wednesday that the departure of the pragmatic and business-friendly Cohn could adversely affect markets.
'For us, the biggest question is what is the tipping point that would cause National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to quit?' the firm wrote.
Trump thinks highly of Cohn and has spoken often of the financial sacrifices he made to leave Goldman to join the administration. He is widely considered to be a leading candidate to chair the US Federal Reserve should Trump choose not to retain Janet Yellen.
In the meantime, Cohn has to decide whether he can stick it out. Another Wall Street executive told Reuters that Trump's remarks may prove to be too much for him.
'Until yesterday, Cohn did a great job insulating himself from Trump and staying in the economic lane. But all of a sudden he was standing behind him when he goes off on a rampage and the true price of working for him comes home,' the executive said. 'What can you do?'
As Trump becomes increasingly isolated, there remains the conceivability that Trump himself could simply walk out of the White House, claiming a left wing conspiracy and reverting to his preferred playboy lifestyle in New York.
In an interview with Christian Today in February, the British MP Michael Gove, who had interviewed Trump the previous month and who is a close observer of American politics as well as Rupert Murdoch's favourite UK politician, was asked whether Trump could go prematurely.
Gove said that impeachment was unlikely because of the arithmetic in the Senate. 'But there's a broader question – does he have the character to see it through? On the one hand he is someone who is clearly narcissistic or egotistical enough to want to be seen as a success, and therefore he'll want to show his critics that he can meet this challenge,' he said.
'On the other hand though there is just a sheer unpredictability about the way in which he sometimes responds to events, that it would be impossible I think to predict with accuracy.'
Additional reporting by Reuters.