On Friday, the Republican National Committee put out a set of talking points for discussing the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that are demonstrably at odds with what President Donald Trump actually said in the aftermath of the events.
The set of talking points, intended for usage by pundits doing interviews, were passed along to The Daily Beast by a source. They emphasize that President Trump spoke out “forcefully against the violence in Charlottesville last weekend and rightfully” denounced “the un-American speech and actions of all white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK members.”
The RNC talking points also encourage operatives to lay blame on one particular group for the violence which claimed the life of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured many others.
“The blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville lays squarely on the white supremacists who organized the rally and continue to spread their message of hate across the country,” the talking points read. “It is never okay to resort to political violence, and we must condemn it in all forms.”
Neither of these points have been articulated by Trump. Indeed, the president’s first response to the violence in Charlottesville was to blame both sides. In damage control mode, he then condemned racist groups in attendance at the Charlottesville rally. But that message didn’t last long. Just a day after the condemnation, the president's laid waste to the idea of specifically blaming white nationalists for the violence during an off-the-cuff press conference.
“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” Trump said during an aggressive back-and-forth with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday. “You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
Trump’s defense of the actions of some of the white nationalists in attendance created a firestorm this week. The White House, in response, put together its own set of talking points—again, different from the RNC’s— intended to back up the president’s position.
“The President was entirely correct -- both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility,” the White House advised according to talking points obtained by The Atlantic. “We should not overlook the facts just because the media finds them inconvenient: From cop killing and violence at political rallies, to shooting at Congressmen at a practice baseball game, extremists on the left have engaged in terrible acts of violence.”
On Thursday, the president also weighed in on the nationwide movement to relocate or dismantle Confederate statues—one which was accelerated after white nationalists rallied around a Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville.
“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.
The RNC talking points also address this issue but in a more nuanced way than the president.
“As Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has said, the GOP is the Party of Lincoln and a party that stands against divisive and hurtful symbols,” the RNC talking points read. “We should find ways to preserve our history but we must always continue to work towards an inclusive future that separates us from a hateful past.”
The RNC’s job is defend the country’s top Republican officials. So it is remarkable to see that in the wake of Trump’s widely-criticized response to Charlottesville, the committee is largely operating off of an alternate reality in which Trump statements were more nuanced or entirely different. But in a sign of either how repulsed fellow Republicans are with the president’s handling of the event or how limited the RNC’s influence is, top operatives weren’t sticking to those talking points on Sunday morning.
During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Republican consultant Alex Castellanos said that President Trump’s response to Charlottesville foretold a dreary outlook.
“Well, it doesn't mean the end of the Trump presidency but it may mean the end of Trump government,” he said. “It's going to be impossible for Donald Trump now to attract good people to government. And he hasn't filled out these positions that he needs to appoint. He has appointed about half of what Obama and Bush before him appointed at this point. It's going to be very hard for him to build his army to fight their army.”
—Betsy Woodruff contributed reporting