President Trump, left, speaks while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington on Jan. 108. (Ron Sachs/Pool via Bloomberg)
Opinion writer

The Post reports:

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) swiftly refuted that not-quite-a-denial denial. “It was a heartbreaking moment,” Durbin said. “The most disheartening thing to me is my belief that that was the first time words that hateful have been spoken in the Oval Office of the White House. I think back of presidents throughout history, and I cannot imagine a moment where a president sunk to that depth. That’s what breaks my heart.”

The most distressing part of these episodes is the so-called respectable Republicans who begin to cover for and rationalize Trump’s overt racism. Well, maybe he didn’t say it. But those countries are poor! But what he really meant was …

Let’s take these in order.

No, he did say it. The White House did not deny it. Multiple witnesses heard him. He reportedly tried to sample opinion on how his remarks were playing. If you want to justify continuing to defend a racist president whose attention span and mental acuity are far below minimally acceptable standards, do so. But don’t play the “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t” game. When Hillary Clinton suggested half of Trump’s supporters were “deplorables,” she was hooted and hollered down.

Let me suggest there are two types of deplorables — the self-proclaimed white nationalists who share his views and the people who think racism is of so little consequence that it’s worth having a racist in the White House to get what they want (e.g. a tax cut). That equation — we’ll fuel racism, operate in a world of lies and non-facts, ban Muslims, etc., to get a list of policy items — is frankly deplorable as well. Would they say the same if Trump’s comments incited riots? If he set out to repeal anti-discrimination laws? Apparently there is no end to what he could do or say because, they say, “But Gorsuch!” For conservatives who have long held themselves out to be defenders of the Constitution and supporters of the American creed, this represents a gross betrayal of their principles — which look less every day like principles and more like sticks with which to beat the left.

As for the characterization of black and brown countries and praise of lily-white Norway, you’ll see the Tucker Carlsons and even veteran right-wing columnists and talking heads begin to take Trump’s side. The assumption that everyone in these countries is impoverished, that people from impoverished countries have no value to the United States and that white, European immigrants are more desirable than brown and black people is classic racism, the talk of white nationalists who think the country is endangered by becoming less white. The countries from which many Americans originated were at various times poor, dangerous and hostile to ethnic or religious minorities; yet those defending Trump now would look askance of the white racists in years gone past who did not want the Irish, Russians, Poles and other ethnic groups and used the same rationale. It is a revealing argument that once again demonstrates that the voices claiming to be anti-illegal immigration are anti-immigrant. Period.

Finally, the constant effort to reinterpret Trump, to make sense of nonsense and to obscure his ignorance and racism is as tiresome as it is insincere. The man who called Mexicans rapists, who declared he wanted to ban Muslims, who criticized a judge because he was a Mexican American (and therefore, in Trump’s twisted mind, could not do his job), who painted African Americans as all living in crime-infested squalor, who said there were good people among the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, who praised and pardoned Joe Arpaio after he violated the rights of suspected illegal immigrants and who does not have a single nonwhite high-ranking White House staff adviser (and the smallest percentage of female and nonwhite Cabinet officials since Ronald Reagan) is a racist. We have not had a president in the memory of any living American who so unabashedly displayed such racist views and assumptions. And yet many Republicans continue to defend him. The GOP cannot claim to be the party of Lincoln, and as such it has lost its moral legitimacy to govern and is indeed deplorable.

Read more by Jennifer Rubin:

Republicans: More reasons to be scared about the midterms

Morning Bits: Trump said what?!?

A banner day for the ‘stable genius’

This secretary is giving Sessions competition for the worst Trump Cabinet member

Trump’s financial opaqueness must not continue