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Trump's isolation grows
President Trump's political isolation mounted on Wednesday, with business CEOs abandoning his economic advisory panels and GOP lawmakers ducking for cover.
Military leaders denounced racism a day after their commander in chief backtracked to say both sides were to blame for violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Critics of the president even extended in part to the airwaves of Fox News.
"Our president has literally betrayed the conscience of our country," said Republican analyst Gianno Caldwell, an African-American who wiped tears from his eyes during a morning broadcast that quickly went viral. "He has failed us."
The last two Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, implicitly condemned Trump's reaction to the violence, urging the nation to "reject hatred in all forms."
Republicans reached by The Hill said Trump's hold on his party had reached a new low. Some pundits wondered whether a staff exodus was in the works, although sources close to the White House said that dealing with crises has become routine for Trump's aides and that speculation about significant departures was overblown.
Several Republicans likened the controversy to the Hollywood Access crisis from the campaign, when a video surfaced of Trump making obscene and disparaging remarks about women.
Trump survived that fracas, and GOP pollster Frank Luntz noted that the president's base isn't moving.
"The one thing the president still has going for him is his lock on Trump voters," Luntz said. "He hasn't won any converts, and the establishment has turned against him, but he still controls his base."
"I haven't seen any disintegration of his coalition," said Virginia's Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell.
Still, in a sign of the discomfort Trump is causing, more than two dozen Republicans and White House officials reached by The Hill declined to comment for this story, leaving the president to twist in the wind.
Fox News anchor Shep Smith had a similar problem, saying on air that he couldn't find a single Republican willing to come on his show to defend the president.
"After Trump won the election he had the whole party behind him, except for some malcontents in Washington, but that's shrinking now," said one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to talk candidly about the president's standing with his party.
"Even when all we heard about was the dysfunction and staff infighting and leaks, most Republicans were in lockstep behind the president," the strategist said. "It feels like that is starting to break. It feels like this is getting away from him."
GOP critics of Trump didn't mince words.
"He has no political capital left," said Ryan Williams, a GOP operative and veteran of Mitt Romney's campaign. "He has no sway on Capitol Hill and is basically now supported only by his base. He has no clout in Washington, and it seems that he will continue to put Republicans in a bad position."
Gallup's daily tracking poll on Wednesday registered Trump's job approval rating at 36 percent. President Obama never dipped below 39 percent and George W. Bush only reached those depths in his second term, after years of war in Iraq and the government's botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
"His remarks are making it hard for independents or Rust Belt Democrats to give him a chance," said Austin Barbour, a Mississippi-based GOP strategist. "When he says things like this, it makes it tougher on folks who go to work or church or to get their coffee in the morning to say that's my guy."
Trump offered no new comments Wednesday, traveling in the afternoon from New York to his golf club in New Jersey.
His allies, frustrated by what they view as spineless party hacks eager to cut the president loose, warned skittish Republicans that they're playing with fire by not rallying behind the president.
"They're looking for any opportunity to undermine him because they're still furious that he took control of their party away," said John McLauglin, one of Trump's campaign pollsters.
"This is the Republican establishment in Washington seeking payback because he crushed them in the primaries. They're joining in the media and the left's smear campaign but it's going to backfire. The [Republican National Committee] has raised tens of millions of dollars in Trump's name and I think you'll see Trump donors and supporters walk away from Republican candidates. Trump will rebound but the GOP establishment in Washington that is totally out of touch with the grass roots will not."
Still, Trump will need more than his base of supporters to achieve his ambitious legislative agenda.
The president has been openly feuding with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his relationship with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been on-again off-again.
Both GOP leaders would like to repeal ObamaCare and achieve tax reform – key legislative promises Trump made during the campaign. But the president's historically low approval rating and the shadow of the Russia investigation has made it easy for Republicans to abandon him when he is most in need of allies.
Fallout from Trump's remarks about Charlottesville includes a rift with CEOs, which led to the dissolution of the president's economic and manufacturing councils.
Those high-profile CEOs were once expected to be a key part of Trump's governing coalition, and many have cheered his goals of securing regulatory and tax reform.
Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner and Trump critic who is considering his own presidential run in 2020, said it's no surprise businessmen would want a divorce the president.
"His lack of depth, intellectual curiosity and empathy makes any situation a very difficult one for any business person trying to contribute to their country via a council or any partnership with the president," Cuban said. "This is who he is. He cannot change."
Brian Ballard, a finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, dismissed the exodus, saying that many of those on the council didn't support the president in the first place and that there isn't a similar stampede for the exits among the GOP's donor class.
"I don't think the president is isolated from the party," Ballard said. "Look – there are a lot of people with reasons to politicize this moment. Some never got over the fact that he's the president and are looking for any reason to throw him out. But I know him, and there's not a racist bone in his body. People may disagree with his terminology, but we all know him to be a man of character and inclusion."
[Source: By Jonathan Easley, The Hill, Washington, 16Aug17]
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