Trump apparently isn't sure how the Civil Rights Act 'worked out'

Eighteen years after Trent Lott, what's the Republican reaction to a president who's apparently not sure how the Civil Rights Act has "worked out"?
Image: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. looks on at the White House in 1964.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. looks on at the White House in 1964.Universal History Archive / via Getty Images
By Steve Benen

In his "Axios on HBO" interview that aired last night, Donald Trump repeated a familiar boast, insisting that he's done more for African Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln. That's obviously bonkers, but it's clearly one of Trump's favorite lies.

When Jonathan Swan asked for evidence to bolster the claim, the president argued, "If you look at what I've done for colleges, for Black colleges and universities, I got them funding. Obama never did it." That, too, is isn't even close to being true.

It was at roughly this point that the reporter reminded Trump that Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which led the president to continue to insist that he did more for the Black community than LBJ. Pressed further, Trump ended up saying, when asked about the Civil Rights Act and Johnson's record,

"How has it worked out? If you take a look at what Lyndon Johnson did? How has it worked out?"

Swan asked the right follow-up question --"You think the Civil Rights Act was a mistake?" -- at which point Trump changed the subject.

That said, by twice asking how the Civil Rights Act has "worked out," it seemed as if the president doesn't believe the law has worked out well.

It was jarring, not only because of Trump's ugly history on matters of race, but also because it's so unusual to hear any mainstream American politician take issue with the Civil Rights Act. Kentucky's Rand Paul briefly expressed opposition to parts of the landmark law before the Republican was elected to the Senate in 2010, and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) questioned the Civil Rights Act's constitutionality in 2014, but in general, even the most far-right GOP officials tend to publicly support the 1964 law.

Few American leaders publicly question how the law "worked out."

Watching Trump's comments, I was reminded of then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) speaking at a 2002 birthday party for then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist platform.

''I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him," Lott said at the gathering, standing alongside Thurmond. "We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.''

Lott soon after sort of tried to walk it back, saying he used "a poor choice of words," but it was far too late: after suggesting the United States would've better off with electing a segregationist president in 1948, Lott was forced from his GOP leadership post.

Eighteen years later, I'm curious: what's the Republican reaction to a president who's apparently not sure how the Civil Rights Act has "worked out"?