GOP Amps Up Excuses For Trump’s Weekend Of Shocking Comments

WASHINGTON ― Republicans settled into a familiar groove on Tuesday after a particularly grim stream of comments by Donald Trump over the weekend, making excuses, ducking questions, and some barely managing to express polite disagreement with their presumptive 2024 presidential nominee.

At a rally in Ohio on Saturday, Trump saluted as a recording of a chorus of prisoners in jail for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol sang the national anthem. Many of “unbelievable patriots,” as Trump called them, were accused of assaulting police officers as they sought to prevent Congress from certifying Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump begins most of his campaign rallies by playing the song as his supporters pay tribute, taking off their hats and putting their hands over their hearts. It’s only the latest example of how Trump and the GOP are glorifying the Jan. 6 insurrection and attempting to rewrite history on one of the darkest days in American democracy.

In the same speech, which he delivered in Dayton, Trump warned of a “bloodbath” to the economy if he isn’t elected and also demonized undocumented immigrants, telling supporters he thinks of some crossing the border as “animals” or not even “people.”

Then, on the following day, Trump taped an interview with conservative radio host Sebastian Gorka in which he said that any Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats “hate Israel” and hate “their religion.” He added of the Democrats: “They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.”

His comments drew sharp rebukes from Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Jewish official in U.S. history, who had excoriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his military campaign in Gaza last week.

But when asked by reporters about Trump’s grim rhetoric on Tuesday, Republican senators shrugged and tried to frame them in a better-sounding light.

“I have a different point of view on that,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said of Trump’s praise for Jan. 6 convicts. When asked about Trump’s comments about Jewish people, he only said, “It’s not what I would say.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a Trump-friendly candidate in the race to replace Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as GOP Senate leader later this year, simply said he would not be offering “running commentary on the presidential race” when asked about Trump’s stance on Jan. 6 and whether it would help Republicans in the November elections.

Did he agree with Trump that people convicted of participating in the Jan. 6 attack are patriots?

“I assume people are patriots until they prove otherwise,” Cornyn told HuffPost.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), meanwhile, said Trump could have used “more artful language” about the Jewish people, but he echoed his criticism of Schumer for calling for new elections in Israel.

“I gotta leave it to President Trump to figure out how he wants to communicate, but he’s not wrong about the Democrat leadership,” Tillis said.

Only Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a frequent critic of Trump, spoke out against his Israel comments on Tuesday, telling reporters he made an “incredibly wrong and an awful statement.”

After more than eight years of defending him, Republican lawmakers are incredibly practiced at excusing Trump’s language and behavior. Top party officials have coalesced entirely behind his 2024 presidential bid even though he sought to overturn his 2020 election loss, a first in American history.

Republicans were also unfazed by another historic announcement last week by former Vice President Mike Pence, who told Fox News last week that he won’t endorse Trump for president. His former boss, Pence said, is “pursuing and articulating an agenda that is at odds with the conservative agenda that we governed on during our four years.”

He also cited Trump’s demands in 2020 that he block the certification of Biden’s election victory. When Pence refused, the angry mob of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were heard chanting “Hang Mike Pence” as they broke into the building while Congress met.

“I made it clear that there were profound differences between me and President Trump on a range of issues, and not just our difference on my constitutional duties that I exercised on January the 6th,” Pence said Friday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Pence’s refusal to endorse Trump did not make him reconsider his endorsement of the former president.

“Each person has got to make up their own mind,” Grassley told HuffPost.

“Mike Pence had a front-row seat for what occurred on Jan. 6 and he had direct conversation with the president beforehand. Those types of personal events are pretty tough to keep out of mind,” said Rounds, who has said that he will back the GOP presidential nominee this year.

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