The two highest-ranking elected Republicans in the United States are having trouble talking about Donald Trump's racism.
Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came out against the bigotry of their party's presumptive nominee, who has attacked the Mexican heritage of an Indiana-born judge presiding over a Trump University fraud case.
But they stopped short of actually calling it bigotry.
McConnell had an awkward exchange about Trump on Sunday when he was asked by NBC's Chuck Todd whether he thought Trump's comments constituted racism.
Asked about Trump's assertions that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not be impartial in the case simply because of his heritage, McConnell responded, "I couldn't disagree more with a statement like that."
OK, that's good. Mitch McConnell doesn't share Trump's bigoted beliefs. But does he think Trump is racist?
Todd repeated the question: "Is it a racist statement?"
McConnell: "I couldn't disagree more with what he had to say."
Todd: "OK, but is it a racist statement?"
McConnell (once more with feeling): “I don’t agree with what he had to say."
Eventually Todd resorted to reading McConnell a quote from conservative blogger Erick Erickson, which said in part: "The attacks are racist. To say someone is unable to objectively and professionally perform his job because of his race is racism."
Earlier in the weekend, Ryan had similar trouble identifying what was so objectionable about Trump's comments.
"Look, the comment about the judge just was out of left field for my mind," he told a Wisconsin radio station. "It's reasoning I don't relate to. I completely disagree with the thinking behind that."
The "reasoning" Ryan is referring to is what most people call racism. And, lest you think Ryan's measured response is appropriate, compare his comments with those of his predecessor, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yes, that Newt Gingrich.
"I think it’s inexcusable," Gingrich told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." "This judge was born in Indiana. He's an American, period."
He went on to say: "If a liberal were to attack Justice Clarence Thomas on the grounds that he’s black, we would all go crazy. Every conservative would say it was racism."
Alas, when it came to Donald Trump, even your new woke GOP boyfriend Newt couldn't bring himself to use the R-word. When Wallace asked Gingrich whether he considered Trump's statements racism, Gingrich replied, "I think it was a mistake. I hope it was sloppiness."
Trump, for his part, doesn't appear to want to make things easy for his fellow Republicans. Over the weekend, he tripled down on his attacks against the judge, and suggested that he might also fear bias from a hypothetical Muslim judge.
We're eager to watch everyone try to avoid the phrase "Islamophobia" next week.