CNN commentator Kayleigh McEnany posed a simple question to Steven Goldstein, the Anne Frank Center's executive director, on Tuesday night: “You think the president does not like Jews and is prejudiced against Jews?”
Goldstein's response was unequivocal: “You bet.”
So began an intense exchange on CNN's “Out Front” that escalated when McEnany suggested that President Trump cannot be anti-Semitic because his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner.
“Does he hate his daughter?” McEnany asked. “Does he hate his son-in-law?”
“You know what, Kayleigh?” Goldstein shot back. “I am tired of commentators like you on the right trotting out his daughter, trotting out his son-in-law as talking points against the president's anti-Semitism. They are Jewish, but that is not a talking point against anti-Semitism, and that is a disgrace. Have you no ethics?”
Anchor Erin Burnett eventually cut in to say that “it is true that when someone is close to somebody they can see them differently [than] they see others. … If you look at what happens throughout history, that's certainly been true with anti-Semitism and many other things.”
The back-and-forth over Kushner and Ivanka Trump's Jewishness made good television, but the real substance of the disagreement between McEnany and Goldstein came down to a recurring question about Trump: Are his denunciations of hatred good enough?
Fifty-three Jewish community centers in 26 states have received threatening calls this year, and more than 170 Jewish gravestones were toppled at a cemetery in suburban St. Louis over the weekend. Trump, who often tweets his reactions to news events immediately, did not address the incidents until Tuesday, when he said that “the anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”
Goldstein said Trump's statement was inadequate.
“Time and again this president has had an opportunity to condemn anti-Semitism,” Goldstein said on CNN. “He had a chance to include Jews in [a] Holocaust remembrance. He didn't. He had a chance to speak out against the desecration of Jewish cemeteries this weekend. He didn't. He had a chance to speak out against bomb threats against JCCs, and he didn't.”
McEnany pointed to the president's answer to a question about anti-Semitism during a news conference last week as evidence that Trump's response has been sufficient. Here's the exchange McEnany referred to:
REPORTER: Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.
TRUMP: Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.
I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on because lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.
I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And, you know, it was something that was very important to me.
As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. Okay? Thank you.
“For those wanting to give the president a fair chance,” McEnany said, “you would have heard him condemn anti-Semitism. … That sounds like a condemnation to me.”
If it was a condemnation, it was one that did not specifically mention anti-Semitism and began with an off-topic boast about Trump's electoral college win — all in all, an unconventional answer from a president.
The White House is clearly frustrated by media critiques of the way Trump handles these responses.
“I think he has been very forceful with his denunciation of people who seek to attack people because of their hate — excuse me, because of their religion, because of their gender, because of the color of their skin,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during his Tuesday news briefing. “And it is something that he is going to continue to fight and make very, very clear that it has no place in this administration. But I think that it's ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this, that it's never good enough.”
Trump doesn't speak like presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush (or any other past president), and he is very proud of that fact. Perhaps then he should not be judged by the standard of his predecessors.
But Trump has set himself up for criticism by the standard he set for himself. By tweeting swift reactions to terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims and Fox News segments about shootings in Chicago, he has created an expectation that he will be equally attuned to attacks against Muslims and threats to Jewish community centers.
When he isn't, people notice. And they wonder about the president's priorities.