Appearing on ABC television's "This Week" on Sunday, Donald Trump adviser Chris Christie was put in a tough position: Explain why it makes sense for Trump to call Hillary Clinton a "bigot."
Instead, when host Martha Raddatz asked the New Jersey governor whether he agrees with Trump that Clinton is a “bigot," Christie launched into a kind of non sequitur that politicians and elementary schoolchildren are particularly good at: He said Clinton "started" it. His full comment:
"I’ll tell you this, this type of discourse in the campaign is just unwarranted. But it was started by Ms. Clinton. Ms. Clinton has started the idea of calling Donald Trump those types of names. And the fact is that, once you are the person — and Ms. Clinton is the person who injected this type of commentary into this race — once you inject that type of commentary into this race, you can’t then sit back and start complaining about it."
In other words, Clinton brought this upon herself by first attacking Trump on the issue of race. Except, Christie's wrong. To the extent we can measure one politician's actions directly based off another's — and I'm not sure we always can in this case — Clinton didn't start this. Trump actually did.
Here's a timeline of pertinent events over the past few weeks:
- As he launched his outreach to black voters two weeks ago, Trump referred to the "bigotry" of the Clinton campaign several times: "We reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton, which panders to and talks down to communities of color and sees them only as votes," Trump told a predominantly white crowd in Wisconsin on Aug. 16.
- At a rally in Ohio on Monday, Trump again referred to "the bigotry of Hillary Clinton": "We are also going to reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton, who sees people of color only as votes and not as human beings worthy of a better future."
- Trump directly called Clinton a bigot on Wednesday night at a rally in Mississippi: "Hillary Clinton is a bigot, who sees people of color only as votes, not as human beings worthy of a better future."
- On Thursday morning, Clinton released an attack ad featuring the Ku Klux Klan: "A lot of what he believes, we believe in," a KKK member says.
- On Thursday afternoon, Clinton gave a forceful speech in Nevada lacing together Trump's controversial remarks on race and all but calling him an unrepentant racist (though she stopped short of using the "r" word): "Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters."
- On Thursday evening, Trump again called Clinton a bigot — several times — in an interview with CNN: "She is a bigot. She is selling them down the tubes because she's not doing anything for those communities. She talks a good game. But she doesn't do anything."
To sum up, Trump has been referring to the "bigotry" of Clinton for several weeks. And he outright called Clinton a "bigot" a day before she launched a full-scale attack on the racist overtones in the Trump campaign. (Though she stopped short of directly labeling Trump a "racist" or "bigot.)
But even if Clinton's "alt-right" speech had come before Trump directly called her a bigot, Christie's "she-started-it" claim doesn't hold water, because it doesn't make sense to call Clinton a bigot in the first place.
As my Fix colleague Aaron Blake has written, Trump is trying to make the case that Democrats' policies are unfair to black and other Americans of color. But that's fundamentally not the same thing as a person who is intolerant or unfair to people of color because of their race.
Like we said at the beginning, Christie was put in a tough spot on Sunday.
Another Trump adviser, Ben Carson, chose an entirely different tack during an interview with the Daily Beast on Friday when asked about Trump's bigot claim. Carson didn't defend it: "I don’t generally get into the name-calling thing. I kind of left that behind in the third grade," he said.