Jennifer Rubin: Trump finally riles up a few GOP senators

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WASHINGTON — It was hardly the most stunning or worrisome revelation from Bob Woodward's new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House." It did, however, finally stir some Republicans — for whom few allegations about the president have previously had credence. The Post reports:

"In the forthcoming chronicle of [President] Trump's White House, 'Fear,' Woodward writes that the president privately called [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions a 'traitor,' saying: 'This guy is mentally retarded. He's this dumb Southerner . . . He couldn't even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.' . . .

" 'I'm a Southerner, people can judge my intellect, my IQ, by my product and what I produce rather than what somebody else says,' Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in an interview.

" 'We're a pretty smart bunch. We lost the Civil War, but I think we're winning the economic war since then . . . I'm not gonna get into name calling because I don't think you should be allowed to call names — including the president,' he added."

That's rich coming from a senator who has supported the president despite insults directed at the disabled, John McCain, a federal judge of Mexican heritage, Mexican immigrants, "s---hole countries" in Africa, women, the media and hundreds of others.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., also perked up: "Well, I'm sure I've got that accent, wouldn't you think?" As for calling Sessions "retarded," Shelby bristled: "I think that's strong words. I think Sessions is a very smart man and a man of integrity. I would disagree with the president on that." Too bad he didn't condemn Trump for calling so many African Americans "low IQ."

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Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., miraculously discovered the impact of ethnic stereotypes. "I'm a Southerner, too. I think it's not at all appropriate," he said. "It's totally inappropriate." At least Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. — who denounced the remarks as "unbecoming" and acting "to degrade our nation" — has spoken up before to condemn Trump's rants.

The Southern senators understand all too well how the president's seething contempt for his base plays back home. They were fine when Trump in effect insulted Southern voters' intelligence by spouting screwy conspiracy theories and outright lies; they just don't want him verbalizing his low regard for their intelligence.

Moreover, what these and far too many Republicans lack is any empathy, any ability to put themselves in the shoes of those who don't look and, yes, don't sound like them. When Trump is spouting vile stuff about African Americans, Mexicans, members of the media and others, it's just "talk." They need not respond, you see. It is only when they and their constituents are on the receiving end of the president's bigoted remarks that they discover an obligation to denounce stereotyping.

Among their worst sins, Trump apologists have tolerated, rationalized and ignored Trump's overt bigotry. But Gorsuch! But tax cuts! But 2017 was such a success! When bigotry, lies and general incivility are no longer important enough to address and condemn — or when they are the price one's willing to pay for tax cuts or judges or whatever — we are going to get more of that.

And when the bigotry gets directed your way, you'll feel the sting, the anger and the indignity that you've had no inclination to address when the people on the receiving end weren't like you. It might not make you a bigot, but it makes one tolerant of bigots and an enabler of their bigotry.

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion from a center-right perspective for The Washington Post.


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