OPINION | Paul Ryan betrays the GOP leaders who once stood up against hate
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In December 2002 at a 100th birthday celebration of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) praised Thurmond's 1948 candidacy for president which was a Dixiecrat platform opposing "social intermingling of races" saying:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

The outcry, castigations, shock and denouncements were immediate and came from both the Left and the Right. President Bush denounced the statement and his brother then-Florida Governor Jeb Bush said Lott needed to step down as Senate majority leader. Conservative Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard sharply rebuked Lott, as did Colin Powell and Jesse Jackson.  

After initially claiming he'd been taken out of context, Lott offered apology and even appeared on BET to profusely apologize.  

But apologies do not change the fact that the mere utterance of support for racists and racism indicate an inability to lead.

Under threat of congressional censure as called for by the Congressional Black Caucus, Trent Lott resigned as Senate majority leader, a move supported by both parties.

Monday night on CNN at his televised town hall meeting in his congressional district in Wisconsin, Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE reversed the Republican position on tolerating racists in leadership positions, calling any congressional censure of President Trump for his remarks defending white supremacists and Nazis marching in Charlottesville last week as "partisan hack fest."

When asked by a constituent, the rabbi sister of former Sen. Russ Feingold, relaying that her congregation no longer felt safe at synagogue, if he would support the congressional censure, Ryan did not deny the Trump statements claiming there were "good people" among the KKK and Nazis were grossly racist and horrendous.

Days ago, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) told The New Yorker: “The President is usually seen as speaking for the nation, and we have to say that on this he is not speaking for the nation. There are three branches of government, one of which doesn’t comment on anything — the judiciary. Congress is the only alternative to come out and say we repudiate the President, and, not only do we repudiate him, this does not speak for the United States; this is morally repugnant to us.”

There was a time when Republicans agreed with this sentiment.  In one fell swoop, Speaker Ryan changed that policy. He is giving Trump a pass, holding him to a much, much lower standard than the party, the Congress and the country held a leader to not so long ago.

This leaves us with very little wiggle room with regard to the Republican Speaker of the House.  He needs to answer — and soon — why Trump's defense of racists and Nazis and their murder of a young woman protesting them is acceptable and not worthy of congressional censure, yet Trent Lott's comments praising Strom Thurmond's decades-old white separatists views rose to the level of necessitating resignation from his leadership post.  

Paul Ryan said Trump merely "messed up" with his ugly, horrendous defense of white supremacists and Nazis.  In fact, Ryan "messed up" royally last night by calling congressional censure of Trump "partisan"

This will not go away. Nor should it.

Cheri Jacobus is a former congressional staffer, RNC spokesperson and political consultant. Follow her on Twitter @CheriJacobus.

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