NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Republican National Committee on Friday unanimously approved a resolution condemning Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, a move that comes just two weeks after President Donald Trump was widely criticized for going easy on white supremacist groups involved in the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests.
Some GOP officials privately scoffed at the idea that the party felt the need to officially condemn the KKK in 2017. But the move by the GOP’s official political arm — signed off on by the White House ahead of time — underscores the level of concern within the party over Trump’s comments on the protests and the impact they could have on the party heading into the 2018 midterm election.
The resolution, sponsored by RNC member Bill Palatucci of New Jersey, states that “the racist beliefs of Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists and other like-minded groups are completely inconsistent with the Republican Party’s platform,” and that “the view that the color of one’s skin determines or should determine one’s standing, rights, opportunities, or duties to others is not consistent with the philosophy of the Republican Party.”
It adds: “The racist beliefs of the Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists and others are repulsive, evil, and have no fruitful place in the United States.”
The forceful statement contrasts with the approach taken by Trump, who came under widespread criticism for equating white supremacists in Charlottesville with those protesting them. Much of the fire has come from within the president’s own party, with senior GOP leaders arguing that the president needed to be far more forceful in singling out hate groups.
To underscore the peril confronting the party, the RNC’s chairwoman, Ronna Romney McDaniel, used a substantial part of her speech during Friday’s closing session to highlight the GOP’s opposition to extremist groups — even as she avoided any criticism of Trump.
“Last week, I joined the president in speaking out strongly against any group that uses hate or violence,” Romney McDaniel said.
Other GOP committee members also defended the need for a formal resolution.
“You can’t emphatically denounce the groups enough. You have to do it by name, you have to do it specifically,” said Virginia GOP Chairman John Whitbeck. “If nothing else, you want some leadership coming out of this. We’re the national party.”
Whitbeck, who oversees a party in a state with a 2017 governor’s race just months away, said the resolution was intended to be forceful and to call out specific groups that were involved in the Charlottesville violence.
However, the committee was careful to avoid a fight with the White House. Ahead of Friday’s approval, the committee received direct sign-off from the administration on that resolution and the nearly dozen or so other resolutions that were voted on, according to a party official briefed on the matter.
The vote capped a three-day, largely private gathering of party officials, operatives, and party leaders. Much of the agenda was focused on laying out the party’s plans for the 2018 midterms and for laying the groundwork for the 2020 election.
On Thursday, the committee began mapping out how the 2020 nomination process will work. On Friday afternoon, a group of officials were to begin the process of deciding which city will play host to the 2020 Republican National Convention.
Among those making the trek to Nashville were several key members of Trump’s political circle, including strategists Brad Parscale and Michael Glassner. On Thursday evening, the president’s son, Eric Trump, delivered a brief dinnertime speech in which he lavished praise on the committee for its fundraising efforts.
As the committee’s 168 members walked the hallways of the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, however, much of the chatter surrounded the troubles confronting the new president and how it could hurt the party in the months to come. Few RNC members were willing to publicly criticize the president, but in private conversations, many expressed dismay about Trump’s remarks on race, his decision to stoke primaries against his Republican critics, and his attacks on ailing GOP Sen. John McCain.
As they shook their heads, some said it had become apparent they were dealing with a president who didn’t seem to understand how politics is conducted.
Yet there also was a sense that, for all their complaints, there was little choice but to stand behind the president. Several noted Trump’s fundraising prowess: He has raised more than $20 million for the committee over the course of the year, with more to come.
“We know that he’s doing the best that he can, that it’s a big job, and that he’s got a lot of people that don’t care for him,” said Jonathan Barnett, an RNC member from Arkansas. “But this committee is very supportive and we’re behind him 100 percent, and we’re going to try to help him accomplish the goals and the value system we believe in.”
At a time when the president finds himself in a fight with congressional GOP leaders, many of the president’s staunchest allies on the committee rushed to his defense. During a closed-door lunch on Thursday afternoon, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross pointedly complained about congressional inaction on Trump’s agenda, a message that drew widespread agreement.
“If you look at polling, Congress’ approval rating is in the teens,” said David Bossie, a Maryland RNC member who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager, “and it’s in the teens because people are frustrated they don’t do anything.”