President Trump's milquetoast response to a protest by white supremacists that turned violent Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., was rebuked by Republicans in Congress — another breach in the growing rift between the commander in chief and his presumed allies on Capitol Hill.
Trump, in a series of tweets and statements, condemned hate and violence on "many sides." But, the president treated the matter largely as a problem of law and order after violence erupted between white supremacists and counter-protesters who showed up to denounce them, declining to specifically call out the racists who marched in his name or the virulent, neo-Nazi ideology that fuels their fringe movement.
It wasn't good enough for congressional Republicans, who expressed profound disappointment with the leader of their political party, and took to his favorite venue, Twitter, to pointedly criticize his remarks. And it wasn't just typical Trump critics— some who are expected to work closely with the White House in the run-up to the 2018 elections also criticized the president.
"Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism," tweeted Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the NRSC, the Senate GOP campaign arm.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, dismissed Trump's bland rhetroic in a way that was more subtle, but made the same point: "What 'WhiteNatjonalist' are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can't be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does," the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee tweeted.
Next up was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over writing the tax reform legislation that is a crucial part of Trump's agenda.
"We should call evil by its name," Hatch said. "My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."
The backlash came amid infighting between Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill, and after several days of Trump lashing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his members for — in Trump's view — moving too slow in pushing his agenda through Congress, particularly with the failure of the Senate GOP bill to partially repeal Obamacare.
Trump has threatened to try and push for McConnell's ouster as Senate majority leader if he doesn't deliver on healthcare reform, the tax overhaul, and infrastructure spending in the coming months. He has questioned the Kentuckian's leadership style, saying McConnell should have stripped Republicans who voted against the healthcare bill of their committee chairmanships. Trump later all but called him a weak leader in tweets and comments to reporters for several days.
"We should have had healthcare approved," Trump told reporters in Bedminster, N.J., where he is in the midst of a working vacation. "[McConnell] should have known that. He had a couple of votes that turned on him and that should have been very easy to handle."
Republicans on the Hill have been equally disgusted with Trump's leadership, concluding he's more interested in protecting his personal brand than replacing the Affordable Care Act. They're fed up with his undisciplined White House, granted they're hopeful new chief of staff John Kelly can right the ship, and frustrated with his obsession over the Russia investigation.
Now comes Trump's tepid reaction to events in Charlottesville, which is sure to open wounds that never healed for many Republicans who were troubled by the president's rhetoric and behavior, but was numbed by his November victory.
Hundreds of white supremacists were in the Virginia college town for a rally to proclaim an ascendancy that some of them credit with Trump's election. They skirmished with counter-protesters who gathered to censure their message, and one person was killed when a man purposely drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Police are investigating the incident, and it's unknown if the man was among the white supremacists filling the town.
Trump did not comment immediately. When he did, it was with words that avoided the specific nature of who was involved and the ideology that motivating them.
The president is always quick to comment on terrorist attacks committed by radical Jihadist — and in fact has been hyper critical of his predecessor, President Obama, for referring to radical Islamic terrorism as "violent extremism."
That made Trump's "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America" tweet all the more glaring. The president stuck to the same script in prepared remarks to reporters later.
It re-opened a troubling chapter of the 2016 campaign for Republicans, many of whom were dismayed when then-candidate Trump refused to disavow support from white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Duke marched Saturday in Charlottesville and said he did so in Trump's name.
The president received enthusiastic support racists and anti-Semites, some who characterize themselves as members of the "alt-right" political movement, during the campaign and always resisted calls from inside his party to disavow them.
Many of Trump's supporters came to his defense as heavy criticism from across the spectrum piled up. But those individuals he needs on his side the most, Republicans in who hold his agenda in their hands, aren't happy.
And they let him know it on Saturday.
"Very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted.