On Wednesday, in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday and President Trump’s series of comments afterward that created controversy, former presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush issued a public statement:
America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.
There is a long history of GOP presidents and presidential candidates rejecting bigotry; George W. Bush had addressed the NAACP in 2000, before he was elected president, asserting:
For our nation, there is no denying the truth that slavery is a blight on our history, and that racism, despite all the progress, still exists today. For my party, there is no escaping that the reality that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln … Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential … Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. Instead of Jim Crow, there is racial redlining and profiling. Instead of separate but equal, there is separate but forgotten.
19 years earlier, Ronald Reagan, as president, had also addressed the NAACP. He said:
A few isolated groups in the back order of American life still hold perverted notions of what America is all about. Recently in some places in the nation, there's been a disturbing reoccurrence of bigotry and violence. To those individuals who persist in such hateful behavior … you are the ones who are out of step with our society, you are the ones who willfully violate the meaning of the dream that is America, and this country because it does what it stands for will not stand for your conduct.
Three years later, when the KKK endorsed his candidacy for reelection, Reagan rejected the endorsement, writing the United States Commission on Civil Rights a letter which read:
Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse. The politics of racial hatred and religious bigotry practiced by the Klan and others have no place in this country, and are destructive of the values for which America has always stood.
Senator Bob Dole, when accepting the nomination of the GOP for president in 1996, said bluntly:
If there is anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we're not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln and the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.