Donald Trump in civil war with his own party over Confederate monuments

Donald Trump has lashed out at members of his own party as his controversial response to white supremacist violence threatens to engulf his presidency.

With prominent Republicans openly questioning his competence and moral leadership, Mr Trump returned to the racially charged debate over Confederate memorials, bemoaning efforts to remove them as an attack on America's "history and culture".

And he berated his critics who, with increasingly sharper language, have denounced his initially slow and then ultimately combative comments on the racial violence at a white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mr Trump was much quicker on Thursday to condemn violence in Barcelona, where more than a dozen people were killed when a van veered onto a pavement and sped down a busy pedestrian zone in what authorities called a terror attack.

He then added a tweet reviving a debunked legend about a US general subduing Muslim rebels a century ago in the Philippines by shooting them with bullets dipped in pig blood.

The president wrote: "Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!"

Mr Trump's unpredictable, defiant and, critics claim, racially provocative behaviour has clearly begun to anger his Republican allies.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who Mr Trump considered for a Cabinet post, declared "the president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to" in dealing with crises.

And Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska tweeted: "Anything less than complete & unambiguous condemnation of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK by the @POTUS is unacceptable. Period."

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said the president's "moral authority is compromised".

Mr Trump, who is known to try to change the focus of news coverage with an attention-grabbing declaration, sought to shift focus from the white supremacists to the future of statues.

"You can't change history, but you can learn from it," he tweeted. "Robert E Lee. Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish.

"Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!"

"Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments," he tweeted.

Mr Trump found himself increasingly under siege and alone while fanning the controversy over race and politics towards a full-fledged national conflagration.

He dissolved two business councils on Wednesday after the chief executive members began quitting.

That damaged his central campaign promise to be a business-savvy chief executive in the Oval Office.

And the White House said on Thursday it was abandoning plans to form an infrastructure advisory council.

Two major charities, the Cleveland Clinic and the American Cancer Society, cancelled fundraisers scheduled for Mr Trump's resort in Palm Beach, Florida, amid the continuing backlash over the president's remarks.

Meanwhile, rumblings of discontent from his staff grew so loud that the White House had to release a statement saying Mr Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council and a Jew, was not quitting.

The president hit back hard against Republicans, accusing "publicity-seeking" Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina of falsely stating Mr Trump's position on the Charlottesville demonstrators.

He called Arizona Senator Jeff Flake "toxic" and praised his potential primary election opponent.

Mr Graham had said Mr Trump "took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency" between the marching white supremacists and the people who had been demonstrating against them.

Pressured by advisers, the president had softened his words on the dispute on Monday.

That was two days after he had enraged many by declining to single out the white supremacists and neo-Nazis whose demonstration against the removal of a Robert E Lee statute had led to violence and the death of a counter-protester in Charlottesville.

But he returned to his combative stance Tuesday - insisting anew during an unexpected and contentious news conference at Trump Tower that "both sides" were to blame.

Aides watching from the sidelines reacted with dismay and disbelief and privately told colleagues they were upset by the president's remarks.

But not all were unhappy with his performance, with adviser Steve Bannon telling allies that it would electrify the Republican Party base.

His job security in the White House is tenuous - Mr Trump offered only a "we'll see" on Tuesday when asked if his chief strategist would remain in his post - but Mr Bannon welcomed a fight over Confederate monuments.

He told The New York Times: "The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it's all racist. Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can't get enough of it."

AP


Most Read in World