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Treasury's Mnuchin tries to defend Trump's offensive antics

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to defend Donald Trump's latest offensive and vulgar antics. It didn't go especially well.
Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (R) and National Economic Director Gary Cohn (L) participate in a news conference to discuss the tax reform...

When Donald Trump first went after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) last summer, the president called the Democratic congressman "Sleazy" Adam Schiff. That taunt gave way to "Liddle" Adam Schiff, and later "Phony" Adam Schiff.

The California lawmaker, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, eventually responded, in a message to Trump, "Surely you know the key to a good playground nickname is consistency. I thought you were supposed to be good at this."

Alas, the president isn't good at this, and his bullying has gotten lazy. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was labeled "Dicky Durbin." Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was called, simply, "Flake Jeff Flake," which is hardly the kind of name-calling one expects from someone who actually cares about name-calling.

At his campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the president seemed eager to dish out Trump-branded insults, calling Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb "Lamb the Sham," which at least rhymes. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) remains "Pocahontas," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was described as "a low-IQ individual" -- a line he also used at the Gridiron event last week, targeting the longtime lawmaker -- and NBC News' Chuck Todd was condemned as a "son of a bitch."

On that last point, Todd asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on "Meet the Press" yesterday about the president's antics. This exchange stood out for me:

TODD: I think you most recently appeared before [Maxine Waters'] committee. She's the Ranking Member on House Financial Services. If somebody on your staff referred to her that way in public, would that person still be on your staff?MNUCHIN: Chuck, you know I've been with the president and at campaigns. You know he likes to put names on people. He did that throughout the entire presidential election. Including all of the Republicans that he beat. So these are campaign rally issues.

That's not much of an answer. Trump is, after all, supposed to be the president. Making public appearances and using vulgar, juvenile language because he "likes to" doesn't really answer the question. Obviously he "likes to" do this; the question is whether or not he should.

Besides, describing someone as "a low-IQ individual" isn't even an example of name-calling.

But Mnuchin went a little further in the closing moments of his NBC News appearance, adding, "I think you should be focused on what the policies are. He's using these vulgarities in the context of a campaign rally and obviously there were a lot of funny moments on that rally."

First, it's not exactly a stirring endorsement of Trump's character that one of his top cabinet secretaries believes we should be willing to ignore what the president says when he's talking to his supporters in public.

Second, if we take Mnuchin's advice and "focus on what the policies are," it's not exactly difficult to make the case that Trump's policies offer a degree of vulgarity, too. This is, after all, a president who's pushed a Muslim ban, tax breaks for billionaires, an end to DACA protections for Dreamers, arming school teachers, and taking health security from millions of American families.

I'm all for prioritizing substance over style and reality over rhetoric. But what do we do when Trump's crudeness covers so much ground?