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Send GOP congressmen home

Dana Milbank on

If only we could send them back.

Republican lawmakers have long cut profiles in cowardice during the Trump presidency, but never before have the consequences of their leadership vacuum been as vivid.

GOP legislators professed dismay when a crowd at President Trump's North Carolina rally, riled by his attacks on a member of Congress who emigrated from Africa as a child, broke into a racist chant of "Send her back!"

"Not acceptable," proclaimed Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"That's offensive," judged Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the House GOP conference vice chairman.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., likewise declared there is "no place in our party and no place in this country" for such words.

 

Yet when Trump himself said a few days earlier that four nonwhite members of Congress, including three born in the United States, should "go back" to the countries they came from, Republican lawmakers responded with near-complete silence. When the House, 48 hours before the chanting in North Carolina, took up a resolution condemning these "racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color," only four of 197 House Republicans joined the denunciation.

But they're appalled when thousands of people in an arena chant sentiments much like the ones they tacitly bless when Trump says them? Even after the grotesque display at the rally (Trump, who later distanced himself from the chant, could be seen savoring it at the time), Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said that "the president is onto something."

The lawmakers' behavior is in a way worse than Trump's. He has long demonstrated that he has no sense of propriety -- only an instinct for the expedient. We can expect no more of him. The real injury comes when elected officials who know better nod and wink at Trump's behavior, thereby signaling to the public that it's acceptable.

Some Republicans have belatedly found their voices this time, likely because they sense political damage. A USA Today/Ipsos poll this week found that 65% of Americans believe it's racist to tell minority Americans to "go back to where they came from." Even 45% of Republicans believe this. These ordinary Americans -- including many Trump supporters -- take a stronger moral position than their so-called leaders.

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