NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Republican National Committee is headed toward adoption of a resolution condemning white supremacists, at the strong urging of the party's national chairwoman but also with groans from some party activists.
The grumbling reflects a difference between RNC leaders concerned about the party's image in light of President Donald Trump's latest rhetorical thicket and newer, more ardently pro-Trump state Republican leaders who say such a statement appears defensive.
"It's amazing that we have been lured into this argument that we're not racists. It's absurd," said Colorado Republican Chairman Jeff Hays. "Why would we feel compelled to do that?"
But make no mistake, this is a priority for Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and committee members who were bothered by Trump's initial resistance to singling out white nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis as the antagonists in Charlottesville.
"There's no debate. We're affirming we're the party of Lincoln," McDaniel told The Associated Press. "We are showing the moral high ground by disavowing hate and violence."
Despite the resolution, there doesn't appear to be a softening of support for the president within the party's national organization.
Rather, what was to be a sleepy, pro-forma late summer gathering seemed to spark renewed backing for the president despite a series of recent setbacks: the GOP's stunning failure to repeal and replace "Obamacare"; the furious backlash over his comments about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; and the departure of crowd favorite Reince Priebus, the former RNC chairman, as Trump's chief of staff.
"The president was not wrong to point out what the media has failed to point out," that counter-protesters also "came for a battle" in Charlottesville, Pennsylvania Republican Chairman Val DiGiorgio said.
DiGiorgio was standing by the "many sides" comment Trump immediately made after the clash in Virginia, in which a car was driven into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman. The president had been criticized harshly by both Republicans and Democrats because he didn't immediately denounce the white nationalist groups in Charlottesville.
Bill Palatucci, a RNC committeeman from New Jersey who sponsored the resolution, said it was important for the committee to formally denounce white supremacists. Palatucci said, "I think he got it wrong a week ago Tuesday, in regards to Charlottesville," when Trump said during a free-wheeling, defiant news conference that there were "very fine people on both sides" at the demonstration.
But even Palatucci, who was a devout supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's 2016 presidential campaign, said, "I support the president's agenda." He cited deregulation measures Trump has signed and the president's plan, outlined Monday, to send additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to revive the effort to root out terrorist cells.
The party's robust $75 million in first-half 2017 fundraising — more than twice what Democrats raised in the first half of President Barack Obama's inaugural year in office — has also lifted spirits, as has improving economic confidence.
The consensus in Nashville is that the Republican-controlled Congress, not Trump, has let down the party.
"There is a level of frustration that Congress didn't repeal and replace Obamacare," Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken said. "They want the president's agenda passed. They blame Congress."
While Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have feuded before and since the failed health care vote in July, there was little talk in Nashville of dumping the veteran Kentucky senator as leader.
"I'm not ready to abandon McConnell," Pennsylvania's DiGiorgio said. "But I would urge him to come together and get this done."
Trump has complained about McConnell, and other Republican senators who have criticized the president or opposed his efforts. He notably pointed to Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, Arizona Republicans, during an angry speech to supporters in Phoenix Tuesday.7 comments on this story
Trump's intraparty attacks have some GOP strategists worried that the fighting could harm Republicans' chances of holding the Senate in next year's midterm elections, though that would require Democrats to retain almost all of the 10 seats they occupy in states Trump won last year.
Chairwoman McDaniel said Trump's taunts are the outspoken New Yorker's way of urging action.
"The president wants to see his agenda passed," McDaniel said. "He's channeling what I'm hearing from the American people, which is, 'We gave you the White House. You have the Senate. You have the House. Why aren't you getting these things done?'"