Congressional Republicans have spent the 24-ish hours since President Donald Trump issued a series of racist tweets hiding from the media. But judging from how Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris tried to explain away the President’s tweets about a quartet of non-white, female Democratic members, silence might have been the better option.
Harris told WBAL’s Bryan Nehman on Monday that Trump’s comments were “clearly not racist,” adding: “He could have meant go back to the district they came from — to the neighborhood they came from.”
Um, what? This is Olympic-level political pretzel-twisting by Harris. So let’s unwind it — and him.
That process begins by returning to the Trump tweets. Which read like this:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
It’s impossible to see how Harris could conclude that Trump was actually saying that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) should go back to their congressional districts.
Why? Well, because he says that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and suggests that “they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
The last time I checked, congressional districts and neighborhoods aren’t described as “countries.” Nor do they have their own governments — “the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” or otherwise.
Then there’s Trump’s “you can’t leave fast enough” taunt. The four members Trump is talking about wouldn’t be “leaving” anywhere if they were, as Harris suggests, just being told by Trump to go back to their congressional districts and neighborhoods. They’d just be going home, to their districts.
You get the idea: Harris’ defense is, literally, laughable. There is no way on God’s green earth that you can read Trump’s tweets on Sunday and conclude what Harris has apparently concluded about them unless you are willfully deluding yourself for political reasons. Which is, of course, exactly what Harris is doing.
Trump took 61% of the vote in Harris’ sprawling eastern Maryland district. That means the only threat to Harris holding his first district for as long as he wants is a Republican primary challenger. And the easiest way to draw a primary challenger in the age of Trump is to stick your head up and say something negative about the President. Trump will see your apostasy and, if past is prologue, will go out of his way to make sure you get beat. (See Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, Justin Amash, etc.)
And so, if you are a Republican member of Congress, you have two options:
1) Avoid the media at all costs when Trump says or tweets something like he did on Sunday
2) Contort yourself — a la Harris — to suggest that Trump meant something very different than what he said
Here’s the problem with both of those responses: Neither one addresses the fact that you are prizing political survival over principle and, in so doing, have given the President of the United States a pass on what is clearly a series of racist tweets.
Elected office — and leadership more generally — is not easy. If you are going to stand up and say that you are the single best person to represent a district, a state or the country, you are also taking on a responsibility to do what is right, not what is expedient.
But the ways in which Harris and his ilk have dealt with the Trump presidency — from Charlottesville to “s-hole countries” to this latest incident — speak to the deep peril in abandoning all principles in an effort to survive politically: If you aren’t willing to take a stand for something, what, at root, do you believe in? Winning isn’t a political philosophy — and if that is all that undergirds your party, that party is in deep trouble.