When is ‘a little racism’ acceptable?

When the leaders of a political party are calling their party’s nominee racist and — in one case — “unAmerican”, but still say they support a candidate over his opponent, the next question should be obvious: When is racism acceptable over a particular policy? And what policy is a fair trade for racism?

But, for the most part, journalists aren’t asking that question, which might actually shift the woeful political coverage of the campaign of 2016 closer to issues that are mostly being ignored.

Speaker of the U.S. House Paul Ryan provided all the cover skittish politicians needed today when he said of Donald Trump’s comments on a federal judge, “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. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Fair enough.

Asked if he still supported Trump over Hillary Clinton, Ryan said, “But do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”

Also fair enough.

(Video link)

Ryan said despite Trump’s racism, he’s throwing in with Trump because he feels the party’s goals have a better chance under Trump, than Clinton.

“I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day, and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than we do with her,” Ryan said.

Theoretically, it should be easy for Ryan to rank an issue or two with the issue of racism and why one is preferable over the other. But he’s not doing so because nobody asked him to, despite the fact, as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes this afternoon, Ryan’s combined statements are illogical.

Think of the logical inconsistency in Ryan’s comments Tuesday. Yes, Trump is engaging in a “textbook” example of racism. No, I will not rescind my support. What conclusion can possibly be drawn from those comments? That, sure, Trump is playing with racism but he’s still better than Clinton?

The way Ryan sets up the argument — if it’s not Trump then it’s Clinton — bypasses a third option that the likes of Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Graham have already taken: Choose not to vote in this election because you cannot in good conscience support either of the candidates.

I get that no politician who spends his or her life asking people to vote and emphasizing how important doing so is for democracy wants to publicly choose not to participate in an election. But how is what Ryan is doing right now not worse for himself and the broader Republican brand? Yes, my candidate is a racist, but he’s still my candidate because Clinton?

Most Republican elected officials have adopted the hold-my-nose-and-be-for-Trump position in the five weeks since he clinched the nomination. Trump’s comments about Curiel — and his quadrupling down on them in the past 72 hours — suggest that grinning and bearing it may no longer be a viable option for Republicans hoping to have a future in national politics or even GOP politicians looking to hold onto the gains the party has made in recent elections.

Trump’s words and actions are forcing a choosing: You are either for him all the way or you are not. Increasingly, there is no room in between those two poles.

On CNN today, a New York congressman also said Trump’s comments were racist and also said he still supports him.

“Is being a little bit racist OK?” the show host asked.

Rep. Lee Zeldin said he found Democratic policies more offensive, and said the president of the United States is more racist “with his policies and his rhetoric.”

People can obviously disagree on the answer. But we can’t have that discussion if nobody is pressing politicians to explain what it is specifically about an issue or policy or candidate that makes racism an acceptable alternative?

Related: Local judges Gonzalez, Horne rip Trump comments as ‘idiotic,’ ‘dangerous’ (La Crosse Tribune)