Oregon Republicans are among some party leaders across the nation openly critical of President Donald Trump, particularly after his comments following deadly right-wing violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In Oregon, state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, has maintained a consistent if low-key and measured response to Trump going back to the Republican primary. Buehler called on Trump last week to respond directly to radical right violence.
“As Patty and I pray for those killed and injured in Charlottesville, we encourage the President to provide moral clarity required to condemn racism, fascism, and bigotry,” Buehler said. “Here in Oregon and across our great nation, we as a free people must be united in our rejection of such hatred with no qualifications whatsoever.”
Democrats and some rank-and-file Republicans have called Buehler’s response timid at a time he is running to replace Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat. National Republican critics such as U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona have been more outspoken, but in Oregon, Buehler is well out front of other major party members.
Other top Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and Senate GOP leader Ted Ferrioli, last week condemned the right-wing violence in Charlottesville, but without mentioning Trump by name or office.
Walden has said he supports the independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties with Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election outcome but has withdrawn from commenting on succeeding Trump questions. He did not answer a request last week for specific comment on Trump’s statements.
How far to go in criticizing Trump has been a constant question for Republicans across the country. Trump’s comments that violence occurred “on both sides” in Charlottesville and his later comment that there were “good people” who marched along with the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in Charlottesville is “a turning point,” former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told The Associated Press.
With a few notable exceptions, Republican leaders supported Trump through his tumultuous seven months in office, despite allegations of financial impropriety, nepotism and collusion by his staff with Russia to undercut Democrats in the 2016 election, and his daily tweets setting off new storms. But the Charlottesville comments have eroded support.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with hot-button issues.
Corker was among two dozen Republican leaders in nine states who were interviewed by The Associated Press as part of an ongoing look at how the GOP is coping with the president.
“President Donald Trump’s racially fraught comments about a deadly neo-Nazi rally have thrust into the open some Republicans’ deeply held doubts about his competency and temperament, in an extraordinary public airing of worries and grievances about a sitting president by his own party,” The Associated Press said. In two dozen interviews, key Republicans expressed worries about whether Trump has the self-discipline and capability to govern successfully.
Kentucky Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield called Trump’s comments “more than a gaffe.”
“I’m concerned he seems to firmly believe in what he’s saying about it,” Westerfield said.
Trump is increasingly becoming a campaign issue in 2018 races, with Democrats seeing an advantage to tying the president to local candidates, even if they have not been robust Trump supporters. Brown’s campaign committee put out an email blast on the day Buehler announced his candidacy in which she said Republicans were “Trumps-in-training.”
Tom Davis, a Republican state senator in South Carolina, told The Associated Press Trump is undercutting his own policy agenda.
But Trump’s many supporters say that while Trump’s comments might be head-turning, they are not going to flip his supporters to opponents.
“The president remains an ill-artful, ill-timed speaker who uses Twitter too often,” said Brian Westgate, a Wisconsin GOP party leader. “That’s not new. … The president is still the same guy, and the left is still the same left.”
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, firstname.lastname@example.org .
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.