Now a phalanx is forming around the demagogue. Prominent Republicans are excusing or defending Trump’s remarks. Here’s what they’re saying:
1. No comment. To build support for political violence, you need potential adversaries within your party to clam up or look the other way. Trump is getting that from the GOP. CNBC says it asked Republican lawmakers, “including every Republican senator,” for reactions to the president’s comments. The network got no replies. Montana Public Radio asked Steve Daines, the state’s Republican senator, whether Trump’s remarks were wrong. Three times, Daines ducked the question—“You’ll have to ask President Trump that”—and his aide cut off the interview.
2. It’s not news. Americans are becoming accustomed to Trump’s erosion of norms. Their indifference, in turn, has numbed Trump’s former critics. On Sunday, Sen. Ben Sasse was asked on CNN about what Trump had said in Montana. “Most people tune most of it out,” Sasse shrugged. The president’s “amoralistic take” he explained, was already “baked in” to public expectations. When Sasse was pressed for his own views, he said Trump’s remarks were “not OK.” But he added, “There’s a danger in pretending each new rally is immediate, urgent.” What Sasse meant was that if you speak up every time Trump says or does something bad, people will get tired and ignore you. But that’s exactly how Trump has immobilized his critics: by repeatedly breaching moral boundaries, destroying the novelty of such attacks, and sapping opponents of the will to challenge him.