President Donald Trump will travel to southwest Missouri next week to talk tax reform, the White House said Friday — the same day that one of the state’s most prominent Republican elders condemned him as a “hateful man” and urged others in the party to “disassociate” from him.
Some of the top Republicans in the state are planning to attend Trump’s appearance in Springfield, Mo., next week, notwithstanding former Sen. John C. Danforth’s scathing opinion piece in the Washington Post on Friday calling Trump “the most divisive president in our history.”
“To my fellow Republicans: We cannot allow Donald Trump to redefine the Republican Party,” wrote Danforth, who left the Senate two decades ago but remains a major voice in the Missouri GOP. “Our country needs a responsibly conservative party. But our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril.”
In an interview Friday, Danforth declined to say whether he thought Missouri Republicans should boycott Trump’s event but added: “I would not be there.”
Among those who won’t have to decide is state Attorney General Josh Hawley, a newly seated Republican who is considering challenging U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., next year. Hawley was scheduled to leave Saturday for a week-long family vacation, according to his office.
Details of Trump’s event still were being worked out Friday, said a White House official.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., “will attend if asked,” his office said. Republican Gov. Eric Greitens plans to attend, according to a spokesman. Lt. Gov. Mike Parson and other top GOP officials also are expected to be there.
Trump will use the speech to push for comprehensive tax reform and signal that he expects Congress to move on the issue after the failure this year to pass a repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the White House official said.
The speech also is intended to show that Trump will be engaged in the tax-reform process as soon as Congress returns from an August recess early next month.
Tax reform, a key campaign promise of Trump’s, has lagged in Congress as the debate over the ACA dominated much of Trump’s first six months. But a simplified tax code could be an area of bipartisan breakthrough with Congress, despite Trump’s criticism of GOP congressional leaders.
Blunt, a member of the Republican leadership team in the Senate, said Friday that tax reform is a logical extension of Republicans’ rollback of “burdensome” regulations. He said he looked forward to “pursuing changes in our tax code that will increase U.S. competitiveness, boost wages and expand opportunity for Americans.”
Danforth, who was in the Senate for almost 20 years from the mid-1970s through the mid-90s, has functioned since as a political mentor to other Missouri Republicans, including Hawley, the state’s new attorney general. Danforth’s enthusiasm for a possible Hawley Senate run likely helped clear the field of some serious potential Republican challengers like U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner and Vicky Hartzler.
Danforth on Friday declined to say he was pressing Hawley to repudiate Trump because of his remarks in the aftermath of this month’s violence in Charlottesville, Va., and other issues.
“I’m not singling out particular people. I’m making a broader point than that,” Danforth said. “I think it’s very important to make it clear to the public that Donald Trump is not like us.”
Hawley’s state office and campaign representatives didn’t respond to multiple requests Friday seeking reaction to Danforth’s condemnation of the president.
Hawley hasn’t formally declared his intention to seek the GOP nomination to challenge McCaskill, the Democratic Senate incumbent, but he has set up an exploratory committee. McCaskill is a top target of national Republicans, in part because Trump won Missouri by almost 20 percentage points .
In rural town hall meetings across the state this month, McCaskill has been trying to burnish her persona as a political moderate, which will be crucial for her to have any chance with voters outside the urban regions at the ends of the state.
In contrast to many Democrats who have been publicly bashing Trump, McCaskill has been highlighting their narrow areas of agreement. On Friday, she said tax reform “is an area on which I’m optimistic President Trump and I will find common ground.”
In Friday’s op-ed, Danforth cites Trump’s recent comments that critics say drew moral equivalence between white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville this month and counter-protesters who opposed them.
During that conflict, a 32-year-old woman was killed when a car allegedly driven by one of the white supremacists plowed into a group of counter-protesters. The driver has been charged with murder.
“Trump is always eager to tell people that they don’t belong here, whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people or another group,” wrote Danforth. “And when he has the opportunity to unite Americans, to inspire us, to call out the most hateful among us, the KKK and the neo-Nazis, he refuses.”
Danforth references the GOP’s founding as the pro-Union party in the Civil War and its civil rights legacy afterward.
“Now comes Trump, who is exactly what Republicans are not, who is exactly what we have opposed in our 160-year history. We are the party of the Union, and he is the most divisive president in our history.”
In an interview, Danforth acknowledged that “it’s easier for me to say it … being out of politics, than for somebody who’s in it. I understand that. But the bigger picture is, what is the Republican Party? Are we like Trump, or not like Trump? We have to make it clear we’re not like Trump. … It’s a matter of principle.”
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber issued a statement on Trump’s pending visit: “Trump’s staff may have finally gotten him away from his luxury golf resorts under the guise of talking taxes, but anything less than a pledge to not cut Medicaid and Social Security or a full condemnation of neo-Nazis will do nothing to reverse his disastrous presidency.”