At tonight’s Democratic debate on Univision, moderator Karen Tumulty asked both candidates—point blank—whether or not they believed that noted racist Donald Trump was, in fact, a racist. The candidates’ collective response: Welllll.......
More specifically, Hillary began her answer by declaring that, should she be nominated, there will be plenty of time “to talk about [Trump]. I was the first one to call him out. I called him out when he was calling Mexicans rapists. When he was engaging in rhetoric that I found deeply offensive, I said basta.” (See what she did there?)
Except—that’s not exactly what happened. Last summer, when we still had the capacity to be shocked by Trump’s xenophobic and bigoted rhetoric, Hillary noted that she was “very disappointed.” Which while certainly a condemnation, doesn’t pack the same punch as, say, publicly declaring that the objective racist is being racist.
Clinton wasn’t alone. Bernie Sanders also demurred at the question, saying, “This is what I think. I think that the American people are never going to elect a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims, who insults women, who insults African-Americans.” Sanders then referred back to Trump’s time pushing the anti-Obama birther narrative, but never actually answered the question.
The best reason I can think of for refusing to answer is an attempt at portraying some sense of civility. But the candidates’ refusal to explicitly call out Trump for his dangerous, virulent racism doesn’t make them sound noble by any means. It makes them sound like cowards.