A week has passed since Donald Trump tweeted an undeniably racist message about four Democratic congresswomen, telling them to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” But the outrage hasn’t abated. Nor should it. And Republicans are still struggling to figure out how to respond.
At the core of Republicans’ response is this primary command: Don’t admit that Trump is a racist.
Yet his supporters knew exactly what message Trump was sending when he tweeted that message. This is evidenced by what happened on Wednesday at a rally at Greenville, North Carolina. As soon as Trump began attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the targets of his earlier tweets, the crowd knew what to do. “Send her back!” they chanted while Trump stood there, soaking it in, for 13 long seconds.
On Sunday, The Washington Post published a deep dive into the fallout from all of this, providing a glimpse behind the scenes at the White House and in the halls of Congress. Republicans are still in damage control as they try to put Trump’s racist genie back in the bottle. For Republicans, being racist is acceptable—as long as you use coded language and don’t say the loud parts too loud, as Trump had done. Again.
According to the Post, “President Trump’s own top aides didn’t think he fully understood what he had done last Sunday, when he fired off a trio of racist tweets before a trip to his golf course.”
White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway knew what Trump had done, and according to the newspaper, she had to explain to Trump why his statements were being talked about around the world.
Here’s what was going on at the time in Trump’s brain, per the Post:
Trump defended himself. He had been watching “Fox & Friends” after waking up. He wanted to elevate the congresswomen, as he had previously discussed with aides. The Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) — were good foils, he had told his advisers, including campaign manager Brad Parscale. The president said he thought he was interjecting himself into Democratic Party politics in a good way.
Trump’s lap dog, Sen. Lindsey Graham, urged the president to “reframe” his racist argument. Advisers crafted new talking points attacking the four congresswomen. The way out of this, advisers told Trump, was: “Pivot to patriotism. Focus on their ideas and behavior, not identity.”
More from the Post:
By midday Monday, the Republican battle to minimize the damage was unfolding on two fronts. The first was an effort to get Trump to shift his message, without admitting a mistake. The goal, said one senior White House aide, was to “get the message back to a place where we could defend the president.”
The idea was to argue that the four congresswomen hated America and were welcome to leave for that reason. There were other lines of attack as well. Omar had been condemned earlier in the year for comments criticizing support for Israel that many Democrats considered anti-Semitic. Pressley had seemed to suggest a racial litmus test for politics, saying Democrats don’t need “any more black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”
Rep. Liz Cheney stepped in to defend the president, along with Vice President Mike Pence, the report said. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House passed a resolution to condemn Trump’s comments. Republicans thought they could finally move on.
Then the chants happened in North Carolina.
According to the Post, “The following morning, Republican leaders, including [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy and Cheney, huddled at the vice president’s residence to figure out how to deal with the danger of the chant catching on. Pence agreed to take the matter to the president.”
But Trump is Trump. So, he lied to the press, claiming he had asked his supporters to stop chanting “send her back.” “I started speaking very quickly,” he added, a claim that was easily disproven by watching the video. Then, less than 24 hours later, he switched back to siding with the racist chanters. “As you know, those are incredible people...those are incredible patriots,” he said on Friday.
The entire Post story is wild, and it demonstrates just how far Republicans will go to remain loyal to Trump. Yet Trump must have been bothered by the fact that more than two dozen White House aides, advisers, and lawmakers spoke to the newspaper about the ongoing situation.
“The Washington Post Story, about my speech in North Carolina and tweet, with its phony sources who do not exist, is Fake News,” he tweeted on Sunday. “The only thing people were talking about is the record setting crowd and the tremendous enthusiasm, far greater than the Democrats. You’ll see in 2020!”
Then, per his advisers’ strategy, he pivoted to the distraction: