Jennifer Rubin: GOP's many enablers of racism

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WASHINGTON — Republicans' favorite tactic these days in defending President Donald Trump's indefensible statements is to pretend he didn't mean what he said. He really insults all athletes, not just African Americans. No, he really meant to demonize just some of the press. It's not the language I would use. I didn't see/read/hear the statement.

On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, there was this:

"CHUCK TODD: Pete Wehner, longtime Republican speech writer, he tweeted this about the president and his constant attacks on African-American activists, including athletes like Lebron James. 'Trump's made the same criticism of black athletes, black journalists, and black members of Congress,' referring to Maxine Waters. 'He attacks their intelligence. His racist appeals aren't even disguised anymore. Trump now defines the G.O.P.' Are you concerned that the president is defining the G.O.P. as anti-black?

"SENATOR ROY BLUNT: Well, the G.O.P.'s not anti-black. And when you look at what's happening in the economy and lots of other places. But you know, when he says things like low-IQ about somebody like Maxine Waters who...

"TODD: It's always with an African-American when he questions intelligence. . . . That's what makes a lot of people uncomfortable with what he's doing.

"BLUNT: I don't think always. I mean, look at what he said about his various opponents in the Republican primary. . . . It's not always. But I think you've gotta be more careful in our society about what you say about people that are different than you. And, you know, a lot of things, for instance, you could say about Maxine Waters. But to indicate she's not a bright person is not one of them. She is very smart. And very calculating."

A bullhorn, not a whistle

In the campaign, Trump actually called his opponents things such as "Low Energy Jeb" and "Little Marco" and "Lying Ted." Since becoming president, the "low IQ" insult has been directed with alarming frequency at African Americans (and when not African Americans, women have been on the receiving end of insults about intelligence). He does this to bond with his white-grievance crowd. It's not a dog whistle but a bullhorn. Blunt protests that the GOP isn't anti-black, but so long as the overwhelmingly white party does not call out the race-monger-in-chief, people will perceive it as such.

Then Kellyanne Conway went on "Face the Nation" to try to play down the "enemy of the people" outrage. (Now, Trump says the press is "dangerous" and "sick" and can start a war, which is bizarre for a person who threatens other countries with annihilation.) Here's how that went:

"MARGARET BRENNAN: But I do also want to ask, since I know you speak to the president, can you clarify some of his statements in the past 24 hours, particularly on Twitter? He's not the only president to have an adversarial relationship with the press. But his language really seems to have escalated, today saying that the fake news media cause war and they're very dangerous and sick.

"What wars have journalists started?

"CONWAY: Margaret, I think the president's entire point is this, that we do have a news media that includes some reporters. So this should not be a broad brush by any statement."

Well, that's ridiculous. His brush is broad enough to include every outlet except for state TV over at Fox News. He's never said, "Fake News but not Margaret Brennan, Chuck Todd, etc."

Conway cleverly insisted, "I know he believes it's not all. That's why he said it really refers to those who aren't always telling the truth and who are giving emotion over information, who are talking more about their own egos than doing everyman interviews." She went on to insist that people she talked to at Trump's Pennsylvania rally last week were enthusiasts of the president. No kidding. She refused to acknowledge the threat Trump may be inciting. ("The president wants people to give information, news they can use," she insisted, which does not account for the 4,229 lies he has told in office, nor explain why labeling the press as the enemy constitutes "news they can use.") At the end of the interview, unlike her colleague Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she did acknowledge she does not think the press is the enemy of the people. Well, that's a relief.

Any criticism from Republicans on Trump's antidemocratic and increasingly inflammatory language? Chirping birds. Republicans tolerate. They evade questions. They thereby normalize.

So what is the press to do?

White House briefings do not deliver news; they serve as a platform for Sanders to lie and to demonize the press. End them. Sanders can be available to reporters for specific questions (allowing her to dissemble and evade one-on-one). It is grossly irresponsible to run the briefings live, in their entirety, allowing her to incite the base and ridicule reporters.

Don't invite liars

As for the rallies, only state TV (Fox News) covers these live. It would seem, as my colleague Dana Milbank suggests, appropriate (if for no other reason than the safety of reporters) to cover the events with a small press pool. The president's vile rhetoric does incite racial division, and his language about the press has the capacity to incite violence. (It already incites all manner of threats, as NBC's Katy Tur pointed out last week, and which any journalist can attest to.)

And finally, the notion that booking Conway or Rudy Giuliani on TV provides some insight into the administration or imparts knowledge needs to be seriously reconsidered. Guests who prevaricate over and over again shouldn't be invited back.

By contrast, the press should continue to dog Republicans. If they cannot bring themselves to repudiate the president's racism and antidemocratic language, they bear responsibility for it.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a center-right perspective.

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