About a third of the way through his 90+-minute speech at a campaign rally in North Carolina on Wednesday night, President Donald Trump began to attack Somali-born Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. It was a continuation of a series of racist tweets he had sent over the weekend in which he urged Omar — as well as three other liberal, non-white, female members of Congress to go back where they came from.
Amid Trump’s onslaught on the freshman Democrat on Wednesday, the North Carolina rally crowd began to chant “Send her back! Send her back!”
That chant has drawn considerable attention — and criticism — over the ensuing hours, with even some Republican leaders, like National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (Minnesota), disavowing it.
And now, even Trump is trying to get away from the chant by rewriting the history of what happened.
Asked by reporters Thursday why he didn’t stop the chant, Trump said this: “I think I did — I started speaking very quickly.” He added: “I was not happy with it — I disagree with it.”
This is simply not true. Watch the video yourself.
Trump waits, by my count, about 13 seconds as the chant picks up energy and volume before speaking again. That’s not “very quickly.” Or anything close to it.
And when he does start speaking again, he not only makes no admonishment of the crowd for the chant but also picks up with his Omar attack right where he left off before the crowd interruption. Here’s the full transcript of the moments just before and just after:
TRUMP: And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.
AUDIENCE: Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!
TRUMP: And she talked about the evil Israel and it’s all about the Benjamins, not a good thing to say. So, that’s Omar. That’s Omar and by the way many other things. All you have to do is press the right button on your beautiful screen and you’ll see thing — you didn’t hear this over the last two days though? Did you hear anybody talk about that? Her colleague, Representative Rashida Tlaib agreed with Omar’s characterization of 9/11 and said that members of Congress who support Israel forgot what country they represent. And Tlaib also used the “f” word to describe the presidency and your president. That’s not nice, even for me. She was describing the President of the United States and the presidency with the big fat vicious, the way she said it, vicious “f” word. That’s not somebody that loves our country. …
There is simply no way to watch the video or read the words Trump said and conclude he said or did anything to mitigate that chant from the crowd. In fact, all of the evidence points in the exact opposite direction: That Trump set the stage for just this sort of chant with his tweets, that when it arose he encouraged it with his silence and that, when it ended, he offered his tacit approval of it by not only not rebuking the crowd but also continuing on with his attacks against Omar.
It’s only when, in the harsh light of day — and likely after a series of “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON” calls from GOP leadership types, that Trump decided to change the story. (Sidebar: He does this all the time. Remember that during the 2016 campaign, after telling a reporter that Americans would never elect someone with “that face” while watching Carly Fiorina on TV, Trump went on to insist he was actually referring to the California candidate’s personality? This is a feature, not a glitch, of who he is.)
While Trump’s attempt to rewrite history is the most egregious effort to downplay the pure xenophobia and racism that the President stoked and condoned, he’s not the only one playing that game today. Check out this “explanation” by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) on Thursday morning: “I didn’t get to see the rally but I saw a clip. The President didn’t join in in any chant like that.”
Oh! So the fact that Trump seemingly condoned the chant — 13 seconds of silence! — is cool because he didn’t lend his voice to it from the stage??? That’s the line we’re going to draw here? That’s going to be the standard that the top-ranking Republican in the House chooses to hold the President to when it comes to issues of racism and xenophobia? (Nota bene: I can’t find a time when Trump ever joined in the “lock her up” chants directed at Hillary Clinton in 2016. Did that make those chants any less virulent?)
There was a time in politics — and, truly, it wasn’t all that long ago — where the two sides could agree that some things were beyond the pale, some things were so out-of-bounds that even if they might work politically, they couldn’t be used. Because, human decency.
Go back to the 2008 election. Specifically a town hall in October of that year when a woman got up and said this to GOP presidential nominee John McCain: “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not… he’s not… he’s an Arab. And…” McCain grabbed the microphone back from the woman at that point while vigorously shaking his head “no.” And he said this of then-Sen. Barack Obama: “He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That’s what this campaign is all about.”
McCain knew, instinctively, the message that would have been sent if he had let the woman keep talking or ignored her question after she finished asking it. McCain knew that even if the GOP base believed the idea that Obama was exotic and other, that might work for him politically, but he wasn’t willing to win that way.
Just more than a decade later, we have a President — and a party — willing to not only stoke and condone behavior along those same lines but then tell you that he didn’t do what we all know he did.