Some of Trump's Allies, Who Have Never Before Broken With the President, Come Out Against Him Amid George Floyd Protests

High-profile Republican leaders came out against President Donald Trump Tuesday for his response to the continued fallout from the death of George Floyd, suggesting that dangerous cracks may be forming among Republicans for a president who has relied on a fervent base to outlast any political storm.

The criticism from military leaders, Republican senators, an influential televangelist and others comes after Trump called on law enforcement and the military to clear protesters from his path so he could visit a boarded-up church for a photo op with a Bible in his hand.

In a piece for The Atlantic entitled "I Cannot Remain Silent," former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen said he had been "reticent" to criticize Trump's leadership until now, but argued the country was at an "inflection point" that necessitated it.

"It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel—including members of the National Guard—forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president's visit outside St. John's Church," he wrote, adding that American cities and towns are the homes and neighborhoods of U.S. military personnel, not "battlespaces" to "dominate," as Defense Secretary Mark Esper told governors on a call.

Former President George W. Bush also released a statement Tuesday with former first lady Laura Bush expressing support for the protests and said they were "anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd."

With Trump encouraging mayors and governors to send in the National Guard to "dominate" protesters he has dismissed as "thugs," "lowlifes," and members of antifa, in his veiled remarks, Bush asked how the nation can "end systemic racism in our society".

"The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving," he said in his statement. "Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America—or how it becomes a better place."

The death of Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police has roiled the country, leading to national protests, vandalism and excessive force by police aimed at protesters and journalists. A CBS News poll Tuesday found that 49 percent disapprove of Trump's handling of the protests, 32 percent approved, and 19 percent said they hadn't heard enough to make a decision.

But Trump's Republican base which has been largely immovable for long stretches of his political career is showing signs of cracks. In May—before the racial tumult, but during the coronavirus pandemic—Rasmussen Reports, a pollster that Trump has cited favorably in the past, found that nearly one-quarter of Republicans surveyed, or 23 percent, said they wanted to replace him as the party's nominee.

Republican Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Tim Scott of South Carolina also criticized Trump's church visit in rebukes Republicans have often been loath to engage in. Scott, for example, told POLITICO, "obviously, if your question is, should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo-op, the answer is no."

Televangelist Pat Robertson, the founder of Christian Broadcasting Network, who praised Trump in a 2016 interview before the election, said in the aftermath of Floyd's killing that Trump should have said he understands the nation's pain and offered love and comfort.

"But the President took a different course," Robertson said. "He said, 'I'm ready to send in military troops if the nation's governors don't act to quell the violence that has rocked American cities.' A matter of fact, he spoke of them as being jerks. You just don't do that, Mr. President. It isn't cool!"

The Trump campaign did not respond to a Newsweek request for comment by publication. A source who has advised Trump in the past spoke on background to speak candidly about how former president George W. Bush is viewed by the base. "It's all the right opponents! Our movement can't stand W," the former adviser said.

Mike Madrid, a member of the Lincoln Project, a group of Republicans who aim to oust Trump in November, told Newsweek his group has internal polling that confirms public polling showing Trump's support slipping among his base. He said the group is in conversations with local Republican elected officials and party leaders across the country who plan to come out against the president in larger numbers, with heavyweight departures expected before Trump's nomination at the Republican National Convention.They may instead endorse Democrat Joe Biden, he said.

Madrid added that while Trump has previously used cultural war touchstones like NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, this time he has played his political hand both poorly, and immorally, in the way he has characterized protesters and used the military to go after them.

"On the current issues of race and racial conflict he's in the minority, and when he doubles down as he has this past week, it perfectly illustrates the tension between college-educated Republicans and non-college-educated Republicans within his base," Madrid said.

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty