After a week in which Donald Trump waded further into the treacherous territory of race relations and continued to draw fire for choosing a campaign chairman with close ties to white nationalists, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus rose to the defense of the GOP presidential nominee in an appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday.
“I know Donald Trump,” Priebus said. “I know Donald Trump in private, I talk to him every day. I know what he's thinking about a lot of these issues and this is a good and decent man that wants to do the right thing and wants to take every position that he's talking about and pepper it with decency, dignity and humanity.”
It was a powerful endorsement of the GOP’s troubled nominee, and if it had occurred in a vacuum, it might have had an impact — at least among people disposed to take their political cues from the traditional Republican establishment. Of course, it occurred not in a vacuum, but in the course of an interview in which Priebus was asked about Trump’s various positions — or lack thereof — on a multitude of issues.
In general, the answers didn’t sound like a man who has a close personal relationship with his party’s nominee.
Host Chuck Todd asked if he thinks it is odd that Trump’s position on his signature issue of immigration remains unclear after all this time. Priebus began his answer with a giant caveat: “I just don't speak for Donald Trump.”
Asked about Trump’s position on undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country without violating other laws, Priebus said, “Well, look, I mean, those are the things that Donald Trump is going to answer.”
Where does Trump stand on the issue of birthright citizenship?
“You're going to have to ask him,” said Priebus.
Todd managed to tease out an admission from Priebus that he does not support eliminating birthright citizenship, and said, “And so, you think Donald Trump — so your advice to him would be don't be touching birthright citizenship?”
“Well, a nominee is not — doesn't have to adopt every single position and platform position of the Republican Party,” Priebus said. “If we're talking about what my opinion is on birthright citizenship, [it] does not necessarily have to be adopted by a nominee. My exact view of immigration and how it should be pursued does not have to be adopted by a nominee.”
Todd moved on to the question of race, and asked Priebus his thoughts on Trump’s assertion that Clinton is bigoted against African-Americans.
“Look, here's what I think: These are not my words,” Priebus said, before repeating criticisms of Clinton for calling some young gang members “super predators” and saying that she had “talked about race in a way that's unacceptable.”
Is Preibus happy with the current direction of the Trump campaign?
“Look, you know, I go with the flow based on what the campaign wants to do.”
What about Trump’s choice of GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as his new campaign manager, and his installation of controversial Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon as campaign chairman?
“I think Kellyanne is doing a phenomenal job,” Priebus said. “I don't know Steve Bannon, to tell you the truth, very well.”
When Todd probed further into the issue of the hiring of Bannon — who in addition to making his news outlet a home to white “racialists” has been accused of domestic abuse and anti-Semitism, Priebus said, “Look, and I don't know how much of it is true or not and neither do you. And so, I don't speculate based on what other third parties say about people. I tend to judge people based on what I see and what I interact with.”
Trouble is, it’s hard to see much when afflicted with a case of willful blindness.