SPRINGFIELD — After months of refusing to even utter President Donald Trump’s name, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday called his fellow Republican out for remarks that “damage America,” saying he “vehemently disagrees with the president’s comments about the tragedy in Charlottesville.”
The rare mention of Trump’s name came on Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair after reporters asked the governor about the president’s comments in New York on Tuesday that “both sides” are to blame for the violence in Virginia.
“I vehemently disagree with the president’s comments,” Rauner said “We must stand together against hatred and racism and bigotry and violence and we must condemn those actions in Charlottesville in the strongest terms.”
The governor was asked why he still would not mention Trump’s name.
“I just said ‘president,’” Rauner said. “President Trump. I vehemently disagree with his comments. We have to condemn that sort of action, those actions by frankly disgusting despicable white supremacist groups, we’ve got to call them that and we’ve got to condemn their actions.”
Trump has sparked outrage with his response to the violent weekend protests by white supremacist groups that ended in three deaths — a woman killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters and two Virginia state troopers killed in a helicopter crash while doing surveillance.
On Saturday, Trump said “many sides” are to blame. Then after two days of criticism from Democrats and Republicans, he read a statement Monday declaring “racism is evil” and specifically describing the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as “criminals and thugs.”
But on Tuesday he reverted back to his initial take on the situation, saying “very violent” counter-protesters in Charlottesville — whom the president dubbed “the alt-left” — share in the blame.
“You look at both sides,” Trump told reporters at Trump Tower in New York. “I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have any doubt about it, either.”
Dating back to last year’s presidential campaign, Rauner has walked a careful line with Trump, distancing himself from the billionaire developer and reality TV star to avoid alienating moderate Republicans or independents in the blue state of Illinois. But Rauner has largely sidestepped harsh criticism to avoid a backlash from Trump supporters who also back the governor.
For the most part, Rauner has steadfastly refused to even discuss Trump. In February, Rauner boycotted a dinner the president hosted for 46 governors at the White House during the National Governors Association meeting. Rauner left Washington early, rather than risk being photographed with Trump.
Rauner had his own stumble responding to the Charlottesville protests. On Monday he condemned the “racism, hatred and violence” as “appalling” and “completely beyond anything that America should be about.” But the governor hesitated in calling it “terrorism.” He did so hours later — after saying he consulted with law enforcement — concluding the Charlottesville tragedy was “absolutely an act of domestic terrorism.”
Rauner showed no hesitation on Wednesday in denouncing Trump’s latest reaction to Charlottesville.
“What I care about is the comments damage America,” Rauner said. “We are all Americans. It doesn’t matter what party. It doesn’t matter who we vote for. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we stand for justice and fairness and equality. That’s what America is about and racism and bigotry and violence has no place in our society.”
Prominent Illinois Republicans joined in on criticism of Trump’s remarks.
While not mentioning Trump by name, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam tweeted a statement on Wednesday, writing “President must not allow Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists or Klansman any refuge in his statements.” Roskam called their views “unequivocally repugnant.”
And speaking at a Republican county chairman breakfast on Wednesday, Congressman Rodney Davis urged Trump to clarify his statement.
“I hope the president clarifies his remarks once again,” Davis said. “And I hope the president can be a voice of calm and a voice of reason at a time where we can come together and stop the hate and vitriol we see in the American political climate today.”
Asked how Trump can “clarify” his statement, Davis urged him to “go back to the statement he had a few days ago.”