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Trump finds a Capitol Hill ally to defend racist comments

"I don't think he is racist at all," a Republican senator from Alabama said of Trump, though the lawmaker was apparently confused.
Donald Trump speaks at a rally on May 25, 2016 in Anaheim, Calif. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)
Donald Trump speaks at a rally on May 25, 2016 in Anaheim, Calif.
Donald Trump's overt racism towards U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has caused a firestorm of controversy, including criticisms from many of the same congressional Republicans who've vowed to support their party's presumptive presidential nominee. GOP lawmakers won't withdraw their endorsements, and they'll continue to leave a Supreme Court vacancy in place for him to fill, but they're willing to criticize his attacks on the judge's ethnicity.
But not all of them. ABC News had this report yesterday.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, who is supporting Trump as the nominee, disagreed [with the presidential candidate's critics]. "I don't think he is racist at all," Shelby said. "What if he was German?" he continued, referring to Curiel. "Or what if he was Polish, or English? Think about it."

Well, I've thought about it, and while I seem to have misplaced my Republican decoder ring, I'm afraid I haven't the foggiest idea what Shelby is talking about. Maybe Shelby was arguing that bigotry towards Americans of Hispanic heritage isn't racism because ethnicity and race aren't necessarily the same thing?
Soon after, Shelby's spokesperson clarified the senator's meaning in a statement to the Alabama Media Group: "Sen. Shelby was simply saying that he believes the race of the judge should be irrelevant."
Yes, but therein lies the point: Donald Trump explicitly argued, in public and on more than one occasion, that he believes the race of the judge is entirely relevant.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but that's pretty much the point of the controversy: Trump argued on national television the other day that Curiel couldn't be objective overseeing a "Trump University" case because of the judge's ethnicity.
"If you are saying he can't do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?" CNN's Jake Tapper asked the candidate. "No, I don't think so at all," Trump replied.
In case that wasn't direct enough, Tapper also started to ask, "If you invoke [Curiel's] race as a reason why he can't do his job..." when Trump interrupted. "I think that's why he's doing it," the candidate added.
So, for Richard Shelby, this poses a challenge. The Alabama Republican believes Trump isn't racist "at all," but Shelby also believes "the race of the judge should be irrelevant," even though Trump believes the opposite.
It's tempting to think the Trump campaign might help Shelby out by sending over some talking points, but as we recently learned, that's not going to happen, either.