After smearing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as anti-Semitic—-and letting the crowd at his Greenville, North Carolina rally roar "send her back!" for more than 10 seconds -- President Donald Trump was forced to distance himself from the chant.
He falsely claimed that he'd continued his speech immediately after the crowd started yelling. On Friday, the New York Times reported that Trump was under intense pressure by his daughter, Ivanka, and Vice President Mike Pence, to disavow the chants.
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent lays out why "send her back" makes Republicans so nervous, when they seem perfectly fine with radical immigration policies like zero-tolerance and the separation of kids from their parents, which are applied to non-white asylum seekers.
Even though Trump's rhetoric and policy specifically target non-white migrants and countries, Republicans have a degree of cover from criticisms that they're in line behind a racist president.
"You can locate a zone of plausible deniability, in which one can claim support for such policies on pragmatic, economic or “cultural” grounds, and not out of any desire to make the United States whiter," Sargent writes. "It’s precisely this zone that Republicans now seek to inhabit."
And that, Sargent says, is why "send her back" is a major liability for the President and his party.
"That’s why the GOP panic about the “send her back” chant is significant. It shines a floodlight into this zone and reveals why it’s so hard to credibly inhabit it."
But "send her back" is a turning point.
"Trump’s naked hatred and cruelty was captured on live television, and along with it, so was the seething anger of the hard-core Trump base," he writes.
"The whole nation saw in dramatic fashion that Trump voters understood his meaning perfectly well, and watched them not just agree with it but also amplify it with as ugly and hate-curdled a chant as one could imagine."
It's a lot harder to pretend Trump's policies aren't driven by white nationalism.