Mattis, who has widespread support among Senate Republicans for his long military service to the country, contended that Trump “does not even pretend to try” to unite the country and is instead engaged in a “deliberate effort” to divide the country, while lacking “mature leadership.” Mattis excoriated Trump’s decision
The reaction reflects how many top Republicans on Capitol Hill have calculated that their fortunes in the 2020 elections rest in large part on Trump’s performance at the polls — and a messy, internecine war with a President with an itchy Twitter finger would amount to a fruitless and damaging endeavor.
The lone senator to break ranks: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is up for reelection in 2022, told CNN she agrees with the criticism and later told reporters she
Asked about the criticism from Mattis that Trump is purposefully dividing the country, Lankford said: “What’s interesting is when I go back 10 years, that was the same criticism I was hearing about President [Barack] Obama at this time — that they were saying he was dividing the country.”
Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, also urged the President to “ignore the criticism in politics” when asked about the Mattis comments.
“I don’t know that him saying this is especially helpful to the various crises that we’re going through right now,” Kennedy told reporters Thursday when asked about the former defense secretary. “But if he feels the need to express himself he can.”
Even close Mattis allies were wary about endorsing his criticism.
Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe said Mattis “has been a hero of mine for a long time” and is “the greatest marine in the world.”
But the Oklahoma Republican added: “He’s never had the communication background to take the job that he initially had three years ago with the President. And so his communication is not as cautious as it should be in that job, and of course what he said was damaging.” Asked if he agreed with the criticism that Trump is trying to purposefully divide the country, Inhofe said: “No.”
Even some Trump critics were cautious.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted to remove Trump from office over abuse of power charges, praised the former defense secretary “as a person of extraordinary integrity and sacrifice. He’s a patriot, who has sound judgment and capacity. I admire him a great deal.”
But when asked if he agreed with Mattis’ criticism, Romney walked away.
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.