Last night, President Trump completely blew up the cover story Republicans crafted to justify his racist weekend tweets. And since this also blew up the theme he’s trying to campaign on — which is supposed to center on socialism and radicalism by Democrats — and since the “send her back” chant was met with nervousness by other Republicans, Trump did something rare: He backed away.
“I was not happy with it — I disagree with it,” he told reporters. But why, he was asked, didn’t he stop the “send her back” chant? “I think I did,” he replied. “I started speaking very quickly.”
That is absolutely false. When the chant begins, Trump behaves the way he often does when he crowd responds to his rhetoric. He pulls back visibly to let their chant build. In this case, he let go of the lectern, looked to his left, back to his right, back to his left, pausing for 13 seconds, before resuming only after the chant had died down:
It will be interesting to see if Trump’s crowds continue using this chant, which expresses the nativist hatred Trump has done so much to stoke. It will also be interesting if Trump continues to maintain the chant is bad, or reverses himself at some point.
For a period in 2016, Trump felt it necessary to distance himself from the “lock her up” chants favored by his crowds. Asked about the chant by a reporter in July 2016, Trump insisted he had never encouraged it:
I said, “Don’t do that.” Now, I didn’t do that for any reason. I really — I didn’t like it. And they stopped. Not one reporter said that I said that. They all said — they started screaming, “Lock her up! Lock her up.” I said, “Don’t do that.” Nobody reported that I said that, because it’s dishonest reporting.
For the moment, “Send her back!” is a violation of democratic norms so gross even Trump cannot be associated with it. Whether that moment last remains to be seen.