Paul Ryan had some harsh words for Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying his ongoing criticism of a federal judge over his heritage is racist and “absolutely unacceptable.” In the next breath, though, Ryan made it clear that Trump’s comments weren’t nearly unacceptable enough for the House speaker to rethink his political support of his party’s presumptive nominee.
“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said at a press conference where he was hoping to talk about his party’s anti-poverty proposals. “But do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
Asked about Trump’s comments this past Friday, Ryan said that he didn’t agree with Trump’s attacks on Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel but mostly shrugged them off as coming “out of left field.” The idea that Ryan couldn’t have known Trump would say such a thing is, um, questionable to say the least. Trump entered the race last year with a nativist rant about the Mexican government sending rapists and murders to the United States, and has never really tapped the brakes on his xenophobia and racism since. Making things even more awkward for Ryan is that Trump has been describing Curiel as “Mexican” since at least May 27, aka about a week before Ryan—after much deliberation—endorsed Trump.
Trump has reportedly urged his surrogates to ignore advice from his own staff and instead actively defend him during this controversy, and even gone as far as to suggest that they argue that anyone questioning whether Trump’s comments are racist are, themselves, the real racists. An increasing number of high-profile Republicans who had previously endorsed Trump have tried to put some distance between themselves and the GOP nominee—a notable development given all the other vile things that have fallen from Trump’s mouth during the past year. None, though, have actually rescinded their endorsement. Trump may be a racist—or, in their telling at least, simply saying racist things—but that’s something they appear willing to live with.
Elsewhere in Slate: If You Ever Need a Reminder of How Awful and Incoherent Trump Is, Watch This