RICHMOND — Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II on Monday found himself trending on Twitter, and not in a good way, after telling CNN political commentator Symone Sanders to “shut up” on TV.
The remark came during a heated discussion about President Trump’s response to deadly violence that erupted over the weekend at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
Sanders was critical of Trump for not calling out rally participants as white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klansmen, blaming the omission on the influence of “white supremacist sympathizers” in the White House, including chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
Cuccinelli, a Republican though hardly a Trump cheerleader, took issue with efforts to “smear” the administration.
Each talked over the other at times. And at one point, CNN host Chris Cuomo asked Cuccinelli to lay out his argument. Cuccinelli began. Sanders soon interrupted. And Cuccinelli lashed out.
“Can I finish, Symone?” he said. “Will you just shut up for a minute and let me finish? God bless America!”
Cuccinelli tried to go on with his argument, “And so all these racists come in, all these neo-Nazis from all over the country. . . . ”
But Sanders and Cuomo did not let that pass.
“Pardon me, sir,” she said. “You don’t get to tell me to shut up on national television. . . . Under no circumstances do you get to speak to me in that manner. You should exhibit some decorum.”
Cuomo also scolded Cuccinelli. He then struggled to get both guests to pipe down long enough for him to give a longer lecture, sounding at times like a frazzled nursery schoolteacher threatening to put the kids in time out.
“Ken, stay civil,” Cuomo began. “Both of you, stop for a second. Symone? Ken? Symone? Ken and Symone, hold on a second. You need a reset. You need a reset. Ken, you don’t want to use language like that when you’re talking to Symone. You can disagree, but you don’t talk like that on this show. You know better than that, Ken.”
Cuccinelli insisted he was in the right. “I keep getting interrupted. I keep getting interrupted,” he said. “Eventually I’ve got to stand up for myself.”
Cuomo: “Ken, you can stand up for yourself and still be civil.”
Cuccinelli: “Then how do you make them stop talking when they keep interrupting you?”
That comment further enraged Sanders: “‘Them? They?’ I’m sitting right here.”
Cuomo apologized to Sanders and twice prodded Cuccinelli to do the same.
“Ken, I know you,” Cuomo said. “You don’t talk to people like that. I know you don’t mean to insult somebody like that on this show. Would you like to say that for yourself?”
Well, not exactly.
“Of course not,” Cuccinelli said, “but I just can’t be walked over — over and over and over.”
The discussion returned to the subject of Trump, with Cuomo asking Cuccinelli to “help me understand” why the president did not name the hate groups.
“Well, look, this president defies understanding on my part,” Cuccinelli said before going on to express confidence that as the week goes on, Trump will make “stronger statements like the vice president did . . . especially as they learn more facts from the ground.”
As the segment wound up, Cuomo once again invited Cuccinelli to apologize. And Cuccinelli kinda, sorta said he was sorry.
“I apologize for ‘shut up,’ and I’ll accept her apology for interrupting me repeatedly and talking over me,” Cuccinelli said.
Sanders shot back, “I don’t have an apology for you.”
“Let’s leave it there,” Cuomo concluded.
But Cuccinelli called Sanders after the show to apologize.
“I called Symone and apologized for telling her to shut up,” Cuccinelli later said in an interview with The Washington Post. “As someone who would like more civil discussion, I need to make sure that I try to contribute to that effort.”
He said Sanders seemed to welcome the call.
“She said she appreciated me calling to apologize,” he said. “And she sounded very sincere to me, as I hope I sounded to her, because I was.”
Cuccinelli said he had spoken out of frustration with both the substance and freewheeling style of the discussion.
“I was laying back from a discussion standpoint for a fair bit, but felt like I couldn’t get a word in edgewise,” he said. “Chris was just letting it fly. That just turns up the heat.”
Cuccinelli said he had also been upset by the “attempt that was going on there to take these awful people — the Nazi types, the Klansmen types — and to broad brush other people like the president and people who work for the president as if they all stand with them.
“I’m not a knee-jerk Trump defender,” said Cuccinelli, who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “But that just goes too far. It is not constructive and is, I think, just taking advantage of a very tragic occurrence to try and accomplish political goals.”