This post has been updated.
After an outcry over the “send her back!” chants directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) at his rally Wednesday night — including criticism from some Republicans — President Trump declared Thursday that he didn’t like them, either.
“I was not happy with it; I disagree with it," he said. Asked why he didn’t stop the chant, Trump said, "I think I did. I started speaking very quickly.”
This is complete nonsense. And there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical he really disliked it or that it will cease.
First off, contrary to Trump’s claim, he actually paused to absorb the chants, as you can see in the video above (courtesy of J.M. Rieger). And then he waited a full 13 seconds — literally until the chants stopped.
After that, he kept right on talking about Omar, rather than changing the subject. Even if you don’t expect Trump to instantaneously rebuke his supporters — like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously did when a woman called Barack Obama an “Arab” at a 2008 town hall — you’d think Trump would move on from the topic if he didn’t like the response.
Secondly, Trump seems to have been aiming for this, starting with his tweets Sunday urging Omar and three other minority congresswomen to “go back” to their countries. He hasn’t technically told them to leave — instead saying “why don’t they” and telling them that if they don’t like the United States, they can leave — but his meaning has been clear. And Wednesday night was part of a completely predictable progression. You don’t talk about immigrants going back to where they came from unless you’re at least toying with the ugly history of that sentiment.
And the third point is that we’ve been here before. The “send her back!” chants brought to mind the “lock her up!” chants from Trump’s 2016 campaign rallies. And then, just as today, Trump initially claimed that he didn’t like the chants.
Here’s what he told the press on July 27, 2016:
When I started talking about Hillary Clinton, the veterans who saw her 24 hours before started screaming, “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up.” They also screamed that, as you know, during the speech I made. The big speech.
And I said, “Don’t do that.” Now, I didn’t do that for any reason. I really — I didn’t like it. And they stopped. Not one reporter said that I said that. They all said — they started screaming “Lock her up! Lock her up.” I said, “Don’t do that.”
Trump then repeated his claim, while including a provocative addendum, “I think it’s a shame that they said it, but a lot of people would say that should happen.”
In a rally just two days later, though, Trump cited Hillary Clinton’s alleged lies about him and said he was done being so “nice” about such things. At later rallies, the chants continued to pop up, and he did nothing to stop them. Then, in an early October debate, he hit back at Clinton by saying that if he was president, “you’d be in jail.” By Oct. 14, he explicitly embraced the phrase, responding to the chants by saying, “For what she’s done, they should lock her up — they should.”
And then, as president, Trump set about trying to make the chants a reality.
Given all of that, it’s difficult to accept what he said Thursday at face value -- even if he had told the truth about what transpired.