What did Joe Donnelly say about his minority staffers? “But.” That’s no picayune problem, the Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz argues. In the middle of a debate in Indiana last night, the incumbent Senate Democrat pointed out that two of his key campaign officials demonstrate his commitment to diversity. And, Donnelly appeared to argue, you’d be surprised at how well they do their jobs, too!

“Our state director is Indian American, but he does an amazing job. Our director of all constituent services she’s African American, but she does an even more incredible job than you could ever imagine.”

Emphases mine, but even more so Itkowitz’. Why did Donnelly use that word twice? Once might have just been a fumble while looking for words in the heat of the moment, but twice suggests Donnelly was saying precisely what he meant. As she writes, the use of that particular conjunction implies contradiction rather than causation:

To begin, here’s a quick vocab refresher. The definition of the word “but,” according to Google, is “to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.” …

This was bad in a way that could make a political observer nostalgic, remembering the good old days when a slip of the tongue or a strange choice of wording could dog a candidate for a long time, and in some cases, forever.

Itkowitz then recalls Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women,” which was entirely a media-created gaffe, and Joe Biden’s 2006 remark that you needed “a slight Indian accent” to “go to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin’ Donuts,” which was offensive on its face. Interestingly, Itkowitz fails to mention how Donnelly won his first campaign in 2012, which came when Republican nominee Richard Mourdock arguably fumbled an attempt to explain why he didn’t favor an exception to abortion bans in cases of rape. Democrats, including Donnelly, and the media accused Mourdock of minimizing rape by parsing the statement as aggressively as possible, to the point of ridiculousness. Had Mourdock simply kept his mouth shut, Donnelly wouldn’t have even been in this debate.

This is a case of Donnelly being hoist with his own petard. Assuming, that is, the media covers it the way they did with Mourdock; the Post certainly has given it prominent scrutiny, thanks to Itkowitz. Will others who pilloried Mourdock for his supposed transgression apply the same rigor to the man who benefited from it six years ago? Expect to hear lots of “buts” when it comes to explaining any differential treatment, but kudos at least to Itkowitz for attempting some consistency.

Update: Kudos to CNN for covering this too, at least on their website:

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly from Indiana awkwardly touted minority staff members during a debate Tuesday night, seeming to suggest they succeeded despite their race or ethnicity.

Maybe Donnelly’s status as a high risk for terrorist behavior that led CNN to cover this? Ah, that’s unfair; they actually cover this straight, and even hold off on the “Republicans pounce” angle until almost the end of the article. They also note that Democrats might not be enthused about circling wagons around him for reasons other than the bad optics of this gaffe:

Democrats, meanwhile, were more agitated by Donnelly suggesting he was open to Trump’s calls for an end to birthright citizenship. Responding to the possibility that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham may introduce legislation to end birthright citizenship, Donnelly said, “We have to look at this legislation.”

Donnelly apologized for using the word “but,” CNN notes, in a statement where he explained, “I meant to say ‘and’ instead of ‘but’.” Why’d he do it twice, then?

Update: Speaking of big ‘buts’ …