Our Opinion: Tax returns quest has larger meaning

President Donald Trump talks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for his Bedminster, N.J. golf club, Friday in Washington.

The almost daily outrages of President Trump elicit regular calls for the Republican Party to locate its spine and criticize the president for his shameful words or deeds. The racist tweets directed at four Democratic congresswomen of color are the latest example and in this case, with one exception, the GOP fell short again, even in a few cases where members did take issue with their party leader's remarks.

The president Sunday tweeted that the four should go back to where "they originally came from" and fix the governments in those countries, rather than try to reform the United States. Three of the four — Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — are from the United States and all four are U.S. citizens. The "go back where you came from" trope is a particularly noxious phrase, one employed through the decades by racists attacking Jews, the Irish, Italians and others of a variety of ethnic and religious groups.

Senate President Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the standard bearers for a Republican Party that once had principles to stand for, have been silent in the wake of the tweets, and as always, their silence speaks volumes. Congressional Republicans who did respond added a "yeah, but" caveat, criticizing the president for his remarks and then going on to attack the policies of the liberal foursome. A typical response comes from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, an alleged "moderate" whose exercise of moderation usually means trying to come down on both sides but ending up on neither.

"I disagree strongly with many of the views and comments of some of the far-left members of the House Democratic Caucus — especially when it comes to their views on socialism, their anti-Semitic rhetoric, and their negative comments about law enforcement — but the president's tweet that some members of Congress should go back to the `places from which they came' was way over the line, and he should take that down," Collins said in a statement. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who during his short-lived presidential campaign in 2015 referred to candidate Trump as a "race-baiting, xenophobic bigot," said Monday on Fox that the president's attacks were justified because the four women "are a bunch of communists" who "hate Israel" and "hate their own country."

The politics and proposals of the four congresswomen are fair game for criticism, but Sen. Collins and several other Republican officials create a false equivalency by comparing those policies and proposals to the president's nakedly racist remarks. It is he, not they, who crossed a line that should never be crossed. In the case of the rant from Sen. Graham, who was once seen as a voice of reason, resorting to Cold War-era commie-bashing is laughable, and to describe victims of the president's hatred as haters of Israel and their own country constitutes piling on. Criticism of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic no matter what Sens. Collins and Graham think, and a variety of Jewish organizations responded to the president's tweets by deploring them, with Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, describing the tweets as "flat-out racist" and criticizing Mr. Trump for "using Israel to defend his blatant racism."

Admirably, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts criticized the comments without equivocation. Referring to the tweets as "shameful and racist," the governor added "tweets like that send a horrid, debilitating, hateful message that there's just no place for in public discourse." This surely angered the Massachusetts Republican Party, controlled as it is by Trump cultists, but the comments speak well for the state.

That the nation finds itself led by a bigoted bully with an affection for dictators attests to the deep-rooted problems America faces. If Americans — and that includes Republicans — unite in deploring this president's indefensible statements and actions, it may be that the nation can address those problems, including its historic racism, and arrive at a better place.