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The Memo: Trump tries to quiet race storm

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE sought to quell the storm over his reaction to violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Monday, but even some Republicans believe the damage has already been done.

“This should never have been a White House story,” said one House GOP aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. “They should have condemned it like everyone else and moved on.”

Speaking at the White House on Monday, Trump said, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

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It was the kind of clear-cut statement that politicians across the ideological spectrum said should have come sooner, after white supremacist groups rallied in the Virginia city on Friday and Saturday. 

Heather Heyer, 32, was killed on Saturday afternoon after being hit by a car allegedly driven by a man with a history of espousing far-right views. The man, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., has been charged with second-degree murder.

Trump’s initial statement in the aftermath, in which he complained about “violence on many sides,” received a wide negative reception. Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (Texas), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe siren of Baton Rouge Senate confirms John Demers to head DOJ national security division Senate rejects bipartisan measure as immigration votes begin MORE (Colo.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (Utah) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioColbert: Students taking action on gun violence 'give me hope' Lawmakers feel pressure on guns Florida lawmaker's aide fired after claiming shooting survivors were 'actors' MORE (Fla.) were among those offering at least implicit criticism.

Even among Trump allies, there were rumblings of discontent.

On Sunday, Anthony Scaramucci, who served a very short tenure as the president’s communications director, told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump “needed to have been much harsher” on white supremacists in his initial statement.

On Capitol Hill, in particular, there was a sense that the president had once again suffered a self-inflicted wound.

The GOP House aide said that while there was “a certain amount of relief” that Trump had finally offered a frank condemnation, there were also lingering worries about “a lot of the alt-right influence over on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s not good for the party and not good for the president.”

Karine Jean-Pierre, senior adviser and national spokeswoman for the progressive group MoveOn.org, told The Hill that Trump’s Monday statement was “a little too late.”

“Over the past three days, he had numerous opportunities to offer some kind of heartfelt response and he never did it,” she said. 

Some Republicans long skeptical of Trump acknowledge that there may have been a political calculation behind the president’s initial reticence.

John Stipanovich, a veteran GOP operative in Florida who has worked in the past for Jeb Bush, emphasized that not all Trump supporters were racist.

But, he added, “to deny that a significant portion of Donald Trump’s vote was animated by cultural anxiety and racial animus is patently ridiculous. Of course they were!”

Terry Sullivan, a Republican consultant who worked on Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, said that his biggest worry was that Trump could harm the GOP brand in an increasingly diverse America.

Such worries have been long-standing. Trump won the presidency while trading in the kind of rhetoric about Mexicans and undocumented immigrants that some Republican insiders were convinced would doom any candidate.

Still, “it was my biggest concern about [Trump] as a candidate, and now as president, that he is the head of the Republican Party,” Sullivan said. “I am afraid that he does more damage to the party than he does to himself.”

Sullivan also noted that, even as the White House was trying to get on a firmer footing in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, the president began the day by hitting back on Twitter against the African-American CEO of Merck who resigned from a presidential council over Trump’s initial response.

Kenneth Frazier resigned “to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” he said in a statement.

Trump, on Twitter, jabbed back: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

“The reality is that we elected a 70-year-old billionaire reality TV star and we got a 70-year-old billionaire reality TV star,” Sullivan said with a sigh. “Nobody should be shocked, but we’re all shocked.”

Will the gravity of what happened in Charlottesville hurt Trump’s standing in ways that other controversies have not?

As with so much pertaining to Trump, the answer is impossible to predict.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.