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Has Trump Lost His Moral Authority for Good?

After legitimizing last weekend’s white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, has Trump lost his moral authority for good?
Image: President Trump Arrives to Speak to Press in the Lobby of Trump Tower in New York
President Donald Trump arrives to speak to the media about infrastructure and respond to questions about the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in the lobby of Trump Tower on August 15, 2017 in New York.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

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Trump loses his moral authority after boosting white nationalists

WASHINGTON — All modern American presidents can use, abuse or lose their moral authority. But just more than 200 days in office, President Donald Trump lost that moral authority — maybe for good — after legitimizing last weekend’s white nationalist protest in Charlottesville in his remarks Tuesday:

  • He said counter-protesters were just as responsible as the white nationalists for the violence: “What about the alt-left? They came charging at the alt-right. Do they have any semblance of guilt?... I think there’s blame on both sides.”
  • He said some of the white nationalists who assembled in Charlottesville were "very fine people": “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of to them a very, very important statue and then renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
  • And he conflated Confederate statues with Revolutionary War statues: “So this week it's Robert E Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

Yes, Trump said he condemned hatred, bigotry, and violence. But as the New York Times put it, he gave the white nationalists a boost. “President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations — equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.”

And if you don’t believe the New York Times, then read what former KKK grand wizard David Duke said about Trump’s remarks: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.” That’s all you need to know.

Can Trump get that moral authority back?

Trump tried to fix things on Monday with his statement via teleprompter — but he undid all of that yesterday. As a result, it will be hard to take any additional cleanup at face value. Moral authority is a precious commodity, and it won’t be easy to get it back.

As for the Republican Party, it’s a time for choosing. Is Trump going to define your party for the next three and a half years — or beyond?

Republicans criticize Trump

Here’s our list of Republicans who have criticized Trump – either directly or indirectly:

  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich: "Pathetic," he said on "Today" this morning. "The president of the United States needs to condemn these kind of hate groups."
  • Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "There's no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so."
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): "Mr. President,you can't allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain"
  • Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas): "White supremacy, bigotry & racism have absolutely no place in our society & no one - especially POTUS - should ever tolerate it"
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan: "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."
  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.): “The President needs to clearly and categorically reject white supremacists. No excuses. No ambiguity."
  • Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.): "Mr. President, there is only one side: AGAINST white supremacists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites & the KKK. They have no place in America or GOP."
  • Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio): “I don't understand what's so hard about this. White supremacists and Neo-Nazis are evil and shouldn't be defended."
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas): "If you’re showing up to a Klan rally, you’re probably a racist or a bigot"
  • Mitt Romney: "No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes."
  • Jeb Bush: "For the sake of our country, he must leave no room for doubt that racism and hatred will not be tolerated or ignored by his White House."

Moore, Strange advance to Alabama runoff, and Moore is in the driver’s seat

With all counties reporting, Roy Moore got 39 percent of the vote in Alabama’s GOP Senate primary, while appointed Sen. Luther Strange got 33 percent and Rep. Mo Brooks got 20 percent. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans who are backing Strange face a dilemma: They can go scorched earth against Moore, but would that strategy backfire against Strange (driving away Brooks supporters)? And would it help Democrats, especially if Moore ekes out next month’s runoff?

Alabama is in play for Democrats

Meanwhile, Democrat Doug Jones captured 66 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, which allows him to avoid a runoff — and focus exclusively on December’s general election. So Democrats might have been the biggest winner last night. Make no mistake: Republicans will still be favored in a general election (featuring either Moore or Strange). But Democrats have a shot. And if they don’t truly compete in this race, then they should stop being a national party. Alabama is in play. Here are Steve Kornacki’s three takeaways from last night.

Elizabeth Warren to centrists

"We are the heart and soul of today’s Democratic Party”: Largely overlooked over the weekend – due to the protests and violence in Charlottesville — was Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s declaration that liberals are the “heart and soul” of today’s Democratic Party.” “The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill,” she said at the Netroots Nation confab, per the New York Times. She added, “We are not the gate-crashers of today’s Democratic Party. We are not a wing of today’s Democratic Party. We are the heart and soul of today’s Democratic Party.”