GOP hurts itself by overreacting to Trump on Charlottesville

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Story highlights

  • Scott Jennings: Politicians wanting to stall policymaking until Trump improves
  • But grinding policymaking to a halt fails to hold Trump accountable, he says

Scott Jennings is a CNN contributor and former special assistant to President George W. Bush. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)I am no fan of President Donald Trump's reaction to the Charlottesville violence, which left one woman dead and many others injured. I said so Saturday on CNN and then again Tuesday night, after he unraveled Monday's wonderfully crafted statement in his press conference and reverted to his earlier misbegotten remarks.

But I am extremely concerned by the overreactions to his admittedly head-spinning response.
The first popular overreaction has come from some #neverTrump Republicans and goes something like this: "There's no tax cut, no road project, no (regulatory) relief worth enacting to justify being silent while Trump's actions emboldens hate, divides USA."
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    That tweet, from my fellow CNN contributor (and veteran Republican strategist) John Weaver, echoes the sentiment of many anti-Trump liberals I've seen holding forth on TV. Essentially, the argument is that because Trump mishandled his response to Charlottesville ("shredding" decency, Weaver said) the Republican Party should hold him accountable by ceasing to pursue any and all core conservative objectives that make up the heart of the GOP policy agenda.
    How does grinding policymaking to a halt hold Trump accountable? The public already hates Washington, in large part because of the glacial pace of policy progress. Bringing it to a dead stop would make it worse.
    Fulfilling core policy promises is more important than ever if you care about political parties being built on ideas instead of personality cults. Republican congressional leaders cannot allow any one person, even a president, to derail a policy agenda that the nation's voters clearly chose. Regardless of the President's Charlottesville response, congressional Republicans have a mandate to act after sweeping to full control of Washington last November.
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    Republicans must forcefully remind the President that the GOP is the party of Lincoln, Grant, Eisenhower and Reagan -- men who freed the slaves, preserved and rebuilt the Union, led the world against Nazi oppression and wholeheartedly rejected racists who sought political quarter in the Republican Party.
    And they were presidents who, as Grant put it, sought "the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens." Today, that means forging ahead with our policy agenda while carrying Lincoln's admonition firmly in our hearts: malice toward none and charity for all.
    The Charlottesville coverage has also given rise to an idea that White House staffers and Cabinet secretaries must now resign in disgust. Writing an op-ed in The Washington Post, Lawrence Summers -- a former Harvard president, economic adviser to President Barack Obama and treasury secretary for President Bill Clinton, said: "Those surrounding Trump would best to demonstrate to him the need to reset or resign by ... withdrawing their cooperation and no longer lending their legitimacy to his disastrous presidency."
    In Summers' estimation, the moral failure of Trump's Charlottesville response would prompt him -- were he currently serving in the White House -- to resign, and should prompt others to do so now. The "dam will break," Summers says, when the first official quits.
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    Mass resignation among high-ranking advisers and Senate-confirmed officials would be an enormously destabilizing event, plunging stock markets and signaling to the rest of the world that the US government is unstaffed and incapable at the highest levels. Is that in our national interest? I don't think so.
    While I would not quibble if an individual adviser or Cabinet secretary resigned because he or she could no longer pursue a specific policy agenda, that should be done independently and not as part of some surreptitiously organized administrative coup d'état.
    As former White House chief of staff Andy Card once told me, "The time to resign from your White House position is when you no longer stand in awe of walking through these doors every day." That's a good standard, and I presume Mr. Summers was still awed by his responsibility to public service when he first heard of President Clinton's moral shortcomings and chose to stick it out.
    High officials take an oath when sworn in as White House commissioned officers or Senate-confirmed cabinet officials, not to an individual president but rather to our country and its Constitution.
    If you dislike the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, our Constitution sets forth a remedy for you -- vote against him in the next election. Organizing mass resignations or demanding that Congress shut down all policymaking is not the American way.
    By all means take your arguments to the people in the next campaign, but leave the Aaron Sorkin-ish political fantasies for the next Hollywood thriller.