With Donald Trump taking his message in an overtly racist direction, Republican Party officials are faced with a new challenge: condemning bigotry while simultaneously insisting that the person responsible for the bigotry should be the leader of the free world.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did his best to walk the fine line. Host Chuck Todd, for example, asked the Kentucky Republican about Trump's comments attacking Judge Curiel's ethnicity, and whether the comments were racist. "I couldn't disagree more with a statement like that," McConnell replied.
Of course, that wasn't what Todd asked, so the host tried again, asking, "Is it a racist statement?" McConnell replied, "I couldn't disagree more with what he had to say."
To his credit, Todd wouldn't take the dodge as answer. "Okay, but do you think it's a racist statement to say?" the host asked once more. "I don't agree with what he had to say," McConnell responded, refusing to answer the question directly.
Eventually, the interview led to this striking exchange.
TODD: I want to read you something that Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator, wrote for The Resurgent. He wrote it yesterday. "The attacks are racist. To claim someone is unable to objectively and professionally perform his job because of his race is racism. And damn the GOP for its unwillingness to speak up on this.... [T]he Party of Lincoln intends to circle the wagons around a racist. Damn them for that." What do you say to Mr. Erickson? MCCONNELL: I think the Party of Lincoln wants to win the White House. And the right-of-center world needs to respect the fact that the primary voters have spoken.
The Senate Majority Leader offered this as an answer as if it were somehow morally defensible. It's not.
It's a sentiment at the intersection of political cravenness and a twisted take on Vince Lombardi's old adage, "Winning isn't the most important thing; it's the only thing." To hear Mitch McConnell tell it, Republicans can and will "circle the wagons around a racist" because partisan ambition requires nothing less. The Party of Lincoln "wants to win the White House"; Trump is the GOP's nominee; and therefore anything goes, racist or not.
McConnell is willing to say he disagrees with his ally's discriminatory positions -- hardly a bold posture -- but he'll go no further.
If Republican voters chose Trump, then "the right-of-center world needs to respect the fact that the primary voters have spoken," no matter what their choice has to say about Americans Donald Trump doesn't like.
Who's worse, the politician spewing overt racism or the politicians who tolerate overt racism for the sake of partisan convenience?