There can be no denying that amid the firestorm from President Donald Trump tweeting that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) should “go back where they came from,” Republicans in Congress are upset.
However, as many of them make clear in conversation with reporters, the fact that these comments were racist is not the main reason they are angry at the president. Rather, they are frustrated that his comments are hogging the news cycle, which leaves them incapable of discussing their agenda — and of criticizing the agenda of the Democratic representatives he targeted.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), for instance, bemoaned the president’s comments as “way over the line,” in a press statement, but prefaced it with how she disagrees with the four congresswomen for their “views on socialism” and “anti-Semitic rhetoric,” seeming almost upset that she didn’t get to make that the centerpiece of her statement instead of Trump’s racism.
A very Susan Collins statement on Trump’s tweets pic.twitter.com/FJ3jyhFpbp
— Sam Stein (@samstein) July 15, 2019
Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), meanwhile, went out of his way to say he did not think Trump or his comments were racist, but, per CNN’s Manu Raju, “said Trump’s tweets undercut the GOP’s message and agenda on Capitol Hill,” apparently considering this to be a much worse problem than that four elected representatives were demeaned for their ethnic background by the president of the United States.
Even the few Republicans who did acknowledge Trump’s tweet was racist went out of their way to say the real crime was that, thanks to Trump, they now can’t get a word in edgewise on what socialists the Democrats are.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the only black Republican in the Senate, complained that “instead of sharing how the Democratic Party’s far-left, pro-socialist policies … are wrong for the future of our nation, the President interjected with unacceptable personal attacks and racially offensive language.” And Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), the only black Republican in the House, called Trump’s tweets “racist and xenophobic” and “unbecoming of the leader of the free world,” but added, “I also think, politically, while you had a civil war going on within the Democratic Party between the far left and the rest of the party, and now they have circled the wagons and are starting to protect one another,” which was evidently one of the biggest sticking points for him.
Even former Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), who is no longer in office and was free to speak her mind unfettered, suggested that was the biggest offense for her too. “Frankly to me, and I think a lot of people, it’s incredibly frustrating to see these types of tweets come out because it pulls away from any positive agenda that has to happen,” she said, arguing this is explicitly why so few Republicans have even bothered to comment in the first place.
Even at a moment when some in the GOP feel compelled to speak out against the president, it seems that they all want the American people to know that they aren’t doing so for any sort of moral reason.