GOP senators silent on Trump's call for white supremacists to 'stand by'

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Donald Trump refused a chance to denounce white nationalism during the presidential debate on Tuesday.

Most Republican senators facing challengers in their races for reelection in 2020 were silent Wednesday about Donald Trump's latest embrace of white nationalists.

During the first presidential debate of the race on Tuesday, Trump was asked by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News whether he would denounce white supremacists and white militia groups. Though he answered that he was "willing to do that," he did not, instead telling them to "stand by."

"Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead. Who would you like me to condemn?" Trump demanded.

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"White supremacists and white militia," Wallace responded, while Joe Biden suggested the right-wing extremist group Proud Boys.

"Okay, Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem," Trump answered.

The Department of Homeland Security labeled white supremacist violence the greatest domestic terrorism threat to the country in a recent draft threat assessment.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Proud Boys are a designated hate group, known for their "white nationalist memes" and their "anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric."

Among the Republican senators fighting for their seats this November, only a few appear to have condemned Trump's refusal to call out violent white nationalists.

The American Independent Foundation reached out for comment to 13 Republican senators facing competitive races this November.

  • A spokesperson for Susan Collins (ME) said in an emailed statement: "Intolerance and white supremacy have no place in our country. The President should always condemn any kind of hate, and he should have done so last night."
  • Dan Sullivan (AK) did not immediately respond.
  • Martha McSally (AZ) did not immediately respond.
  • Cory Gardner (CO) did not immediately respond.
  • David Perdue (GA) did not immediately respond.
  • Kelly Loeffler (GA) did not immediately respond. She did tweet on Wednesday: "The results are in - @realDonaldTrump DOMINATED @JoeBiden last night."
  • Joni Ernst (IA) did not immediately respond.
  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) did not immediately respond.
  • A spokesperson for Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS) said in an emailed statement that the senator "condemns racism in any form," but did not address Trump's comments.
  • Steve Daines (MT) did not immediately respond.
  • Thom Tillis (NC) did not immediately respond.
  • Lindsey Graham (SC) did not immediately respond.
  • John Cornyn (TX) did not immediately respond.

Among Senate Republicans who are not up for reelection in 2020, Sen. Tim Scott (SC), the chamber's lone Black Republican, told reporters on Wednesday that he did not believe Trump meant to embrace the Proud Boys. "I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it. If he doesn't correct it, I guess he didn't misspeak."

Sen. Kevin Cramer (ND) defended Trump's remarks before suggesting that both Trump and Biden "could have been a lot stronger" in condemning violence.

Sen. Mitt Romney (UT) said, "Of course" when asked by reporters if Trump should have denounced white supremacists.

Sen. John Thune (SD) said that Trump had already condemned white supremacists: "In his mind he did." He added, "I think it's probably important for them to clear it up."

Tuesday was not the first time Trump has embraced white supremacists and racism.

He spent several years prior to his 2016 presidential campaign promoting racist birther conspiracies about Barack Obama, falsely suggesting he was not really American.

In 2017, Trump infamously defended white nationalists after they carried out deadly attacks during a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, claiming there were "some very fine people on both sides."

And he has called developing nations "shithole countries" and told American-born Democratic congresswomen of color to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.