There's no defending it, say Republicans from the House speaker down to the rank and file: Donald Trump's contention that a judge can't decide a Trump University lawsuit because of his Mexican heritage is a racist thing to say.

The very next logical question is: So why vote for him? Doesn't that mean you're supporting a racist?

But Republicans have no good answer to that. These past few days, we've seen everyone from Trump allies to reluctant endorsers get tongue-tied when trying to explain why they want to elect a man they admit has made racist comments.

That impossible dilemma is captured pretty perfectly in an interview CNN's Kate Bolduan and John Berman did Tuesday morning with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.). Zeldin is in the semi-bullish category when it comes to Trump's candidacy: He said Trump would "annihilate" Hillary Clinton in his Long Island district, but he also waited to endorse Trump until after it was apparent he was the nominee.

AD
AD

On CNN, Zeldin started out by saying what House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said not even an hour earlier:

That's a bad enough political situation to be in, as The Fix's Chris Cillizza points out:

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?

But here's where Zeldin steps in it. Where Ryan willingly offers that Trump's comments about federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel were "indefensible," Zeldin tries to defend them:

BERMAN: "So if Donald Trump is making racist statements, you're saying he's a racist?"
ZELDIN: "So if he, internally, felt superior because he is white and he's not Hispanic -- if he felt superior because he was white and he wasn't black or he was Christian and not Jewish -- you could start getting into the weeds internally as far as a person's character goes. But quite frankly, what I have seen through the years is an offensive micro-targeting on policy and rhetoric of campaigns. People want votes."

Then things got really tortured. Zeldin tries to normalize Trump's comments by saying there are tons of elected officials who struggle with racism -- including none other than President Obama, the first black president: "You can easily argue the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric."

AD

"Being a little racist or very racist is not okay," he went on to say. "But quite frankly, the agenda that I see and all the microtargeting I see to blacks and Hispanics from a policy standpoint -- that's more offensive to me than what I've seen through the years in this one statement, that I don't believe is Donald Trump feeling like he is superior."

AD

All of this opened Zeldin up to this incredibly awkward question:

Zeldin stammered and didn't really offer an answer. Because there isn't one.

Trump has put Republicans in tough positions before: proposing a ban on Muslims, accusing Clinton of playing the woman card, being slow to disavow the support of a white supremacist, and on it goes. Each time, the party has struggled with how to respond to varying degrees.

AD

But this current corner Trump has backed Republicans into is perhaps the most difficult to escape. Eliminating racism in public life is one of the few things our elected officials can agree on today. American society has collectively drawn a line in the sand saying that judging someone based on their ethnicity is wrong.

And now Republicans' de facto presidential nominee is saying things that, by his party's own admission, cross that line. It's not hard for Democrats to make the case -- and for voters to agree -- that Republicans are supporting someone who is racist. That's a damaging position to be in that not only risks destroying Republicans' hope for the White House this fall, but their party's image for years to come, Cillizza writes.

Democrats' job is made much easier when folks like Zeldin try to defend Trump. Because to try, in this case, is to almost always fail.

"My purpose here isn't to just go through the list and call everyone a racist," Zeldin told CNN toward the end of the interview.

And yet that's exactly what Republicans seem to be doing. Including their own presidential nominee:

AD
AD