Jacob Heilbrunn

The alt-right have widened the rift between Trump and the Republican establishment

The alt-right have widened the rift between Trump and the Republican establishment
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On Sunday morning the White House, in an unsigned statement, came out swinging against 'nephew-nazi and all extremist groups.' Leave it to the Trump administration to bungle even the wording of neo-Nazi in its belated attempt to distance itself from the sanguinary events that took place on Saturday in the bucolic town of Charlottesville, Virginia, where the radical right gathered to chant 'blood and soil' and carry Nazi flags. Their mission was to decry the impending removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who lost the Civil War to Ulysses Grant. The odious David Duke, a leading neo-Nazi who speaks worshipfully of Donald Trump, had slithered out of the swamps of his home state Louisiana to make a cameo. All that was missing were lederhosen and a beer hall. The rabble had already roused itself. It was a very different and more sinister world than the one in which Bertie Wooster could send Roderick Spode, the 7th Earl of Sidcup and the head of the fascist Black Shorts, fleeing with a reference to his pursuits as a lingerie designer.

In Charlottesville a melee ensued in which white supremacists and the alt-right, more often than not one and the same, attacked counter-protesters. One James Fields Jr. now stands accused of driving a Dodge muscle car into a group and murdering at least one person as well as injuring nineteen.

Where was Trump? A strange silence emanated for much of the day from the purlieus of Bedminster, New Jersey where the president was vacationing. After Melania sent out a tweet – 'let's connect w/o hate in our hearts. No good can come from violence'– Trump tut-tutted about the violence 'on many sides', which formed a signal instance of a Republican president engaging in moral equivalence.

Numerous other Republicans, however, quickly denounced what they termed a case of 'domestic terrorism.' Senator Marco Rubio, House speaker Paul Ryan and others were blunt and categorical. The rift between Trump and the GOP establishment is thus getting wider. The past six months have been a kind of truce, even a phoney war, that may turn into a a real one inside the GOP. The Trump re-election campaign released a new ad today pasting, among other things, his 'enemies.' The language is, so to speak, white hot. Trump may be clinging to his base, but he has further eroded his standing.