Republican Senators Distancing Themselves From President Trump

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters in Washington on Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(CN) — Republican support for President Donald Trump in the Senate began to crack Thursday as criticisms mounted over the militarized response to peaceful protesters in the nation’s capital.

In remarks to reporters, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski admitted she is “struggling” with supporting Trump’s re-election.

“I have struggled with it for a long time,” she said.

Murkowski referenced the scathing condemnation of Trump by former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in The Atlantic, calling it “necessary and overdue.”

“Perhaps we’re getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” she said.

Trump later tweeted he will campaign against Murkowski when she is up for re-election in 2022.

“Few people know where they’ll be in two years from now, but I do, in the Great State of Alaska (which I love) campaigning against Senator Lisa Murkowski,” Trump said. “Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!”

Trump also called Mattis “the world’s most overrated general” in an earlier tweet.

Mattis resigned in 2018, though Trump contends he was asked to leave.

Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney also praised Mattis on Thursday.

“General Mattis’s letter was stunning and powerful,” he said. “General Mattis is a man of extraordinary sacrifice. He’s an American patriot. He’s an individual whose judgment I respect, and I think the world of him.”

A day earlier, Romney denounced the forcible clearing of protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on Monday night moments before Trump walked to St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the park.

“From the news clips I have seen, the protesters across from the White House were orderly and nonviolent,” Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune in a statement. “They should not have been removed by force and without warning, particularly when the apparent purpose was to stage a photo op.”

Four other Senate Republicans – Susan Collins of Maine, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tim Scott of South Carolina – also denounced the aggressive response to protesters in Lafayette Park earlier this week.

“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,” Scott, the lone black Senate Republican, told a Politico reporter.

Trump still has backing from most Republican leaders, but the recent critiques reveal a break in unwavering support in a crucial election year. Democrats only need to gain 3 or 4 seats to take control of the Senate.

Several recent polls show Trump struggling in key battleground states such as Ohio and Arizona. Even in reliably Republican Texas, a Quinnipiac poll has former vice president Joe Biden within a percentage point of Trump.

The election polls mirror American’s concerns over the week’s civil unrest. A Reuters survey released on Tuesday showed more than 55% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests. Only a third approved.

A separate Reuters poll conducted over the same period found registered voters favored Biden over Trump by 10 points, the largest lead since April.

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