DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It has been almost a week now since the events in Charlottesville, Va. And this has been a week that could be the worst in Donald Trump's short presidency so far. It took many congressional Republicans some time to publicly talk about how the president reacted to Charlottesville, but some of them are starting to speak up and to speak up forcefully.
Here's Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican yesterday.
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BOB CORKER: The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. And we need for him to be successful. Our nation needs for him to be successful.
GREENE: We're joined by Robert Costa. He's a reporter with The Washington Post, also the moderator for "Washington Week" on PBS. Robert, good morning.
ROBERT COSTA: Good morning.
GREENE: So tell me what you think about when you listen to Senator Corker. I mean, this is someone who was being considered for secretary of state in the Trump administration. How significant a blow are comments like that to this White House?
COSTA: It's pretty significant. In fact, during the campaign, David, Senator Corker told me he was in the short list for the vice presidential slot for then candidate Trump. And you're seeing with him an unraveling of the Republican Party, a Republican Party that's always been uneasy with the hardline nationalism that President Trump has espoused.
But they thought they could maybe make it work, get some things done on Capitol Hill like tax reform and infrastructure. But as this racially charged language comes from the president on the Confederate statues and preserving them on public ground, as the legislative agenda stalls, you see the party growing even more uneasy.
GREENE: Sounds like you see this as a real potential inflection point for this party.
COSTA: It's an inflection point that's been long coming. You see President Trump himself running away from his own party as his own party runs away from him.
GREENE: Well, I wonder how uncomfortable it is for people like Corker. I mean, we asked all 52 Republican senators if they would come speak on our air about Charlottesville and the president. Not one of them has come on so far. I mean, what position are they in?
COSTA: It's almost like they're dealing with an in-law, someone they're not really comfortable with but they have to make it work, they're all in the same family right now because, David, at the end of the day, most Republicans I talk to on Capitol Hill, they don't think they're really part of the same party as President Trump.
He comes in as such an outsider and an outsider who's defiant and not really willing to work with the leadership, that they don't really know how to deal with it. That's why they don't want to talk to you.
GREENE: Well, we see some polls beginning to change, too. There's a Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday showing a 13-point decline from the beginning of the month in how Republicans feel about Trump's ability to lead. So I guess one question is what that means for his legislative agenda?
COSTA: If you look closer at some of these polls, you still see that President Trump has this grip on the Republican base. A lot of working-class voters in the Rust Belt, I was just in Scranton, Pa., they're still speaking about President Trump in positive terms because they want to see rapid change on trade policy, things that Republicans don't traditionally talk about.
But what he has to worry about are the suburban swing voters in the outskirts of Milwaukee, in Philadelphia, in Columbus, Ohio. Will they start to fade away?
GREENE: A couple other things that happened this week. We saw the American Cancer Society yesterday and also two other groups announcing they were going to move these big-ticket galas that they have been planning to hold at Trump's resort in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. And earlier this week, we had these CEOs begin to abandon ship. President Trump, you know, said he ended up having to disband these two economic councils.
I just think about his image as a business person and also money when it comes to a place like Mar-a-Lago. Is this hitting him where it hurts?
COSTA: It is. And if you think about the Republican Party, they said to themselves, well, maybe we'll at least get some sweeping tax cuts. Corporate America made the same deal with themselves and when it came to President Trump. They didn't really get him, but they thought they could maybe get something in return. You now see them walking away.
It's because of Charlottesville, these neo-Nazi protests, racism fueled by white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. And the president's response of saying both sides are to blame has really put pressure on them from their shareholders and their employees to move away.
GREENE: Couple of weeks ago, Robert, you were saying that the departure of Anthony Scaramucci in his brief tenure as leading communications at the White House, after he left, you saw potentially some more order in this White House. There's a new chief of staff, John Kelly. I mean, could this just be something that will pass and the narrative that you saw more order and more discipline is something we're going to see in the coming weeks and months?
COSTA: We've already seen some new discipline inside of the West Wing. My sources inside say now calls have to go through General Kelly if you want to talk to President Trump, that there's much more of an orderly process in terms of the kind of information that gets tossed on the president's desk. The challenge for General Kelly is that he doesn't have an ideological compass. He's someone who's trying to organize the White House.
And if Steve Bannon, the chief strategist, ends up going for some reason, people are going to wonder on the right where is this White House really going?
GREENE: And I guess at the end of the day, how disciplined this White House is is ultimately the decision of one person. That's Donald Trump.
COSTA: General Kelly can manage the staff, but it's hard to manage this chief.
GREENE: Robert Costa is a reporter with The Washington Post. And you can also catch him on PBS on Fridays as the moderator of "Washington Week." Appreciate the time, Robert. Thanks.
COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.