NY-22 Minute: Tenney Backs Trump's Assessment of Blame as Country & GOP Divide By Luke Perry

NY-22 Minute: Tenney Backs Trump's Assessment of Blame as Country & GOP Divide By Luke Perry

Claudia Tenney released a statement yesterday regarding the "Unite the Right" protest and related violence in Charlottesville:

“As someone who worked closely alongside the Jewish Community Center in Utica to resettle Bosnian refugees who were victims of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, it is unconscionable to me that anyone in modern day America could display such hatred, violence and racism toward their fellowman. On Saturday, I immediately condemned in the strongest terms possible this tragic display of white supremacy and called on Americans to join together to condemn these acts of intolerance and bigotry, which have no place in our society or our political discourse. I urge the President to continue to denounce white supremacy, racism and intolerance and work to promote an atmosphere of unity in our nation during this troubling time.”

This came after President Trump stated on Tuesday: “I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

Trump also stated that “not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.” His comments were praised by the K.K.K. and white nationalists as “fair,” “honest,” and “courageous.”

Wednesday morning Tenney stated in a radio interview with WUTQ’s Talk of the Town that “I think what the president is trying to say is there is fault to be found on both sides. And I think that there is fault to be found on both sides.” President Trump is often “inartful in his choice of words and I think he was trying to say there are a lot of terrible things that happen on both sides.” (2:40 mark)

Claudia Tenney’s interview and statement taken together illuminate how Tenney condemned racism and anti-Semitism, while blaming the unrest and violence on both white supremacist protesters and counter protesters.

The argument in favor of doing this is that Tenney remains tightly aligned with President Trump, who she has overwhelmingly supported in the House and as of November of 2016 was very popular in the district (there have been no subsequent measurements). This rhetoric also appeals to conservative criticism of The Resistance, media scrutiny of the Trump presidency, and protests on college campuses against conservative speakers, most prominently, Milo Yiannopoulos, formerly of Breitbart News.

The argument against Tenney’s approach is that the views and violent actions of the K.K.K. and Neo-Nazi’s are widely considered indefensible, including domestic terrorism allegedly undertaken by one such follower. Creating moral equivalencies is inaccurate and immoral, as many GOP members of Congress have stated, and further divides the country.

This issue is dividing the Republican Party, pitting its national leader, President Trump, against GOP Congressional leaders. Mitch McConnell was privately upset by the president’s recent press conference and has stated: "there are no good neo-nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms. McConnell also expressed concerned that “the white supremacist, KKK, and neo-nazi groups who brought hatred and violence to Charlottesville are now planning a rally in Lexington. Their messages of hate and bigotry are not welcome in Kentucky and should not be welcome anywhere in America,"

Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted: “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” Recent GOP presidents and presidential nominees have echoed this sentiment, including Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George Bush 41 and 43.   

This morning Claudia Tenney told Mark Weiner from Syracuse.com that her comment regarding both sides deserving blame referred to “hate speech” throughout the country, even though Trump explicitly stated the counter protesters were "violent." Tenney did not specify what hate speech opponents of the K.K.K. and Neo-Nazi's have undertaken.

Trump has fueled racial divisions before and White House adviser Stephen Bannon remains in place amid increased scrutiny of his involvement with the alt-right and white nationalism. Bannon positively described Trump’s news conference as “a defining moment” where Trump fully abandoned “globalists” and sided with “his people.”

Tenney has granted interviews, promoted, and received praise from Breitbart News, the organization that Bannon, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, transformed into “a favorite news source for Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists.” Tenney also previously stated that racism doesn’t only come from the GOP in addressing a constituent who shared how her and her son have experienced increased racism since the election of Donald Trump (she also apologized and welcomed immigrants to the district).

President Trump is clearly presenting challenges for House incumbents embarking on reelection campaigns, including Claudia Tenney, who would likely prefer to talk about local issues, particularly her Renew NY-22 plan. After all, infrastructure was supposed to be the focus surroudning Trump's impromptu press conference, which Claudia Tenney and Anthony Brindisi both discussed in Binghamton on Wednesday.

It’s unlikely the focus will change quickly as President Trump took to Twitter this morning, stating it is “sad to see history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of beautiful statues and monuments.” Next week Trump will hold another campaign-style rally in Phoenix, where he may announce the pardon of Joe Arpaio.   


Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College. 

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