Every week at the White House is a busy one, but last week was especially eventful. Over the course of five days, Team Trump unveiled a new budget blueprint; the West Wing spent days lobbying lawmakers ahead of some high-profile votes; and Donald Trump was even forced to issue the first veto of his presidency. Where was acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney?
Over 2,000 miles away. As the Associated Press reported, during a dramatic week in the West Wing, Mulvaney was in Las Vegas “for an annual getaway with friends and family.” The South Carolina Republican has a reputation for being a hands-off chief of staff, and it appears that reputation is well deserved.
Mulvaney is nevertheless back at work, and yesterday, he appeared on CBS and Fox News, where he argued, “The president is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that.”
As a rule, when a White House chief of staff has to publicly declare that his boss is not a white supremacist, it suggests all is not well in the Oval Office. Indeed, “I’m not sure how many times we have to say that” is an amazing sentence in its own right – because it suggests Trump’s aides are frequently asked about the president’s bigotry.
But what struck me as especially notable was this exchange between Mulvaney and CBS News’ Margaret Brennan.
BRENNAN: During the campaign, as you know, as a candidate, the president called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He said Islam “hates us.” This kind of language in the past leads to these questions of why isn’t the president now directly using that megaphone to condemn it.
MULVANEY: Well, then take the words and put them in one category and take the actions and put them in another.
This is not a compelling response.
For one thing, “the words” are not trivial. Donald Trump has been a high-profile voice for Islamophobic rhetoric for several years, going so far as to suggest, among other things, that he’d consider closing some American mosques.
Mulvaney added yesterday, “I don’t think anybody could say that the president is anti-Muslim.” Given Trump’s actual rhetorical record, I think it’s quite easy to make that exact claim.
But to hear the acting White House chief of staff tell it, rhetoric is irrelevant compared to actions. In a contest between words and deeds, the latter always wins.
And while I’m not unsympathetic to this as a principle, in Trump’s case, his actions include the creation of a Muslim ban as one of his first acts as president.
Even if generous observers were to dismiss everything the president has said on the subject, and limit the scope to Trump’s actions exclusively, how in the world do the Republican’s actions make his record look any better?