President Trump’s official spokespeople are usually adept at dodging questions about various crimes, scandals, or bigoted statements by their boss. The most recent such controversy surrounds the allegation by former Trump campaign and administration employee Omarosa Manigault Newman that Trump had been captured on tape using the N-word. At the White House briefing today, NBC’s Kristen Welker asked a question Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could not dodge: “Can you stand at the podium and guarantee the American people they’ll never hear Donald Trump utter ‘the N-word’ on a recording, in any context?”
Here the rubber met the road. Sanders was placed in a position where, should such a tape emerge, she would be publicly humiliated. Indeed, her guarantee would be the coda to the tape, and she would find herself attached permanently to the historical record of the episode. Sanders flinched, and refused to guarantee it.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” she replied.
Perhaps she has heard people in the administration who believe the tape exists. Perhaps not. Either way, her refusal to guarantee it tells you everything. As Sanders insisted at the briefing, Trump personally testified he had never used the word. But nobody believes Trump — certainly not Sanders, who is perfectly aware of his habitual lying. Now, if Sanders had total confidence that Trump is not a racist, or at least not enough of a racist to use that term, she could have vouchsafed his assurances with her own guarantee.
But Sanders clearly believes that Trump is capable of saying it. She is not willing to bet what’s left of her reputation on the chance that Trump didn’t say it on a live microphone.
Sanders would be happy to guarantee some things. She would guarantee there’s no tape of Trump plotting to kill John F. Kennedy. She would guarantee there’s no tape of Trump inventing the microchip. She would guarantee there’s no tape of Trump advocating full-scale socialist state ownership of the means of production. It is because she knows enough about Trump’s character to grasp the possibilities of his private beliefs that Sanders refused to guarantee he did not use a racial slur.