Donald Trump rarely admits a mistake, much less an overstatement, so we’ll take the regret he expressed Thursday at the chant of “send her back” during his Wednesday rally as the moral equivalent of an apology. Let’s hope his supporters get the message, and that Mr. Trump stops egging them on.
The crowd in North Carolina broke into chants of “send her back” after Mr. Trump lambasted Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar for hating America. Mr. Trump had used the words “go back” in a tweet earlier in the week, and the crowd’s chant shows how easily an ill-thought presidential comment can inspire ugly expressions of mass psychology.
The best that can be said is that the chant echoed the 2016 calls of “lock her up” regarding Hillary Clinton, and it may have begun in that raucous partisan spirit. But Wednesday’s chant was meaner in targeting Ms. Omar not merely for what she has said but as a naturalized citizen who should be banished from the U.S. The impulse is raw nativism.
Mr. Trump isn’t the first President to indulge in such group-targeted demagoguery. FDR railed in his 1932 campaign against “the Ishmaels and the Insulls, whose hand is against every man’s.” That was an anti-Semitic jibe against disgraced Chicago utilities magnate Samuel Insull, and the press corps at the time cheered Roosevelt on.
This time the chant was widely denounced, and not merely by the anti-Trump chorus. Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican who was at the rally, tweeted afterward: “Though it was brief, I struggled with the ‘send her back’ chant tonight referencing Rep. Omar. Her history, words & actions reveal her great disdain for both America & Israel. That should be our focus and not phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.”
By mid-Thursday Mr. Trump had thought better of it himself. “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it. But again, I didn’t say that, they did,” Mr. Trump said. That absolves himself of his tweets that expressed similar sentiments about Rep. Omar and three colleagues, but Mr. Trump added that he will “certainly try” to prevent the chant from breaking out again.
Who knows why Mr. Trump thought better of the chant a day later, but we’re glad he did. The 2020 campaign is shaping up to be vicious even by recent political standards, and mass antipathy is hard to control once it’s unleashed. Americans will hold Mr. Trump and Republicans responsible if yahoos take Mr. Trump’s words as a license for violence.
As Mr. Walker points out, there’s plenty to criticize the Democrats for on their views and rhetoric without denigrating immigrants or classes of people. By all means call a policy socialist if that’s what it is. But “send her back” isn’t worthy of Trump supporters or the great America they want.
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Appeared in the July 19, 2019, print edition.