Just about every Republican in Congress has been asked for some kind of reaction to Donald Trump's latest racial controversy, and there's been no shortage of colorful responses. But my personal favorite came by way of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), described yesterday as an "increasingly enthusiastic Trump supporter," who assured the public that there's no cause for alarm.
"My experience with Donald Trump is he doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body," Hatch said.
Perhaps the senator was thinking of a different person named Donald Trump.
Hatch went on to make an appeal on behalf of his party's presumptive presidential nominee. The L.A. Times reported:
Another top Republican, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, sounded a similar plea for leniency, saying a person as new to politics as Trump will say "stupid" and "outrageous" things. "Be nice to him," said Hatch. "He's a poor first-time candidate."
The GOP senator may have been trying to be funny, but it prompted the Huffington Post's Igor Bobic to note, "Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, but members of his own party keep excusing his outrageous behavior as if he's a pre-adolescent whose cognitive functions and sense of right and wrong haven't fully developed."
This is an important point to keep in mind in the coming months. It's no doubt true that Trump is a first-time candidate with no experience in government or public service of any kind, and as a consequence, he's prone to saying and doing things that don't make sense. But Republicans have known this for quite a while -- and they've nevertheless concluded that he's not only prepared to be the party's general-election nominee, he's also ready to lead a global superpower.
In other words, when he stumbles badly, his allies don't have the luxury of saying, "Don't worry, his ignorance is the result of him not knowing what he's doing."
This is presidential politics; there is no grading on a curve. Urging the political world to "be nice to him" when he uses overt racism to attack a federal judge who's done nothing wrong doesn't even do Trump any favors: it only reinforces the impression of a flailing amateur who isn't ready for prime time.
Trump isn't the new kid being picked on; he's a major-party presidential contender who'll face the nation's voters in five months. If the Republican candidate isn't ready, it's up to voters to decide whether or not that's a disqualifier, not up to everyone else to apply an easier standard to a "poor first-time candidate."