ProPublica's Alec MacGillis has another question — this one for the press: What do you mean "still?" After all, Trump was railing against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel long before Ryan backed the real estate mogul.
What's going on here?
The remarks referenced by MacGillis were delivered by Trump on May 27 at a rally in San Diego, where he launched into a tirade against the "very hostile" Curiel, "who happens to be, we believe, Mexican."
Trump also injected race into attacks on Curiel back in February. He told the crowd at a rally in Arkansas that "there's a hostility toward me by the judge — tremendous hostility — beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine. He's Hispanic, which is fine."
So what gives? Why is the media framing Ryan's endorsement of Trump as something the speaker maintains after inflammatory remarks, as opposed to something he gave with full awareness of comments made before? And why is the press only now devoting its full attention to a line of attack Trump began more than three months ago?
There is a pretty straightforward answer to both questions — although critics of Trump coverage probably won't like it: It was not until June 2 that Trump said explicitly what he appeared to be suggesting all along.
That was the day the Wall Street Journal quoted Trump as saying Curiel had an "absolute conflict" in presiding over the Trump University case because he is "of Mexican heritage."
"I'm building a wall. It's an inherent conflict of interest," Trump added in an interview with the newspaper, which was published online hours after Ryan pledged his support in the Janesville (Wis.) Gazette.
Most people, including journalists, who heard or read Trump's remarks about Curiel in February or May probably concluded that this is what he was getting at. Why else would he bring up the fact that the judge is Latino multiple times? Trump seemed to be implying that Curiel had a conflict of interest — that he couldn't do his job because of his ethnicity. But he didn't actually come right out and say it until June 2.
Trump's overtness was a game-changer. It's not that the media ignored Trump's earlier comments. In February, for instance, Chris Wallace asked during an interview on "Fox News Sunday" why Trump was invoking Curiel's heritage. And as MacGillis told me when we chatted about his tweet, "even before his comments to the Journal, there was a lot of coverage of his rant in San Diego as being over the line."
But until Trump spelled out exactly what he meant, you didn't have exchanges like the one between him and CNN's Jake Tapper on Friday, when Tapper was relentless — 23 follow-ups (!) — in asking whether the statement to the Journal was racist.
You could argue the media's earlier coverage was prudent, giving Trump the benefit of the doubt and refraining from a conclusion that might have seemed obvious but wasn't 100 percent provable. Others might call it soft or even cowardly, allowing Trump to hide behind innuendo, as he often does.
Like I said, not everyone will like the answer to the questions raised by MacGillis's tweet. But if you're wondering what took so long, well, this is what took so long. Whether the media — and Ryan, for that matter — should have connected the dots more explicitly earlier is certainly a worthy debate.