The offense is different but the logic is the same: Like Kathy Griffin, Maher thought he could get away with this because it’s a joke and he’s On The Team, and so The Team would back him up — a reasonable assumption in a hyperpartisan age. But he’s getting slammed from both sides, just like Griffin was. I’m curious to see how he reacts. The guy prides himself on being a provocateur, so defiance is more likely than a weepy press conference. But then, until 36 hours ago, Griffin prided herself on being a provocateur too.

HBO is running scared:

Maher has yet to comment on the backlash, but HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer called the joke “completely inexcusable and tasteless.”

“We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show,” he said.

As for Sasse, there’s no way a racist term’s going to be used in public in front of a prominent Republican without that Republican being blamed for it somehow. Maher dropping the N-bomb is bad; Sasse sitting there in uncomfortable silence — while Maher’s audience laughed and applauded — is much less bad but much more politically useful. Sasse got to live the experience here of being a guest at a cocktail party chatting up the host, who suddenly drops a racist joke. What do you do? Grin awkwardly and hope the guy moves on, resolving to skip the next party? Pick a fight with him right there, turning a friendly environment into a hostile one, knowing that he’s not going to change his behavior just because you’ve lectured him?

Sasse isn’t any old guest at a party, though. He’s a U.S. senator. So even he’s conceding this morning that the “in front of Ben Sasse” part of this equation matters.

I like Ken “Popehat” White’s response: “Dear BenSasse: I don’t fault your reaction in the moment on tv. I fault you deliberately appearing on a career unserious douche’s show.”

One point in fairness to Maher, though, via my colleague Ed Morrissey: There is a difference between this and the Kathy Griffin photo shoot. The “beheaded Trump” thing was deliberate; Maher’s crack here was ad-libbed. That’s not an excuse, but it’s easier to explain a misjudgment made in the moment than one made over the course of hours or days. Although critics would probably say that a spontaneous utterance like Maher’s is more likely to reflect his true feelings than a calculated publicity stunt like Griffin’s.

I doubt HBO will fire him, as provocation is the risk you assume when you put Maher on the air. But scalp-taking seems to be increasing lately, on both sides. Stay tuned!

Update: No defiance from the provocateur today: