"He says things that are on his mind." Yes, racist things.
Donald Trump's overt racism continues to present a problem for Republicans, especially the ones who dare to face their constituents.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst drew laughs at her first constituent event of the year when she tried to defend Trump's standing among world leaders, and things didn't improve much for her at the next town hall.
Ernst took questions Monday from a mostly friendly crowd in Boone, Iowa, but things took a turn when she was asked about Trump's racism.
At the end of a multi-part question, one constituent said he had "a very straightforward question" for the senator: "Is the president racist, do you believe?"
The crowd applauded the man's question, but when Ernst got around to answering it, not everyone was pleased.
"Deep inside, no, I don't think he's a racist," Ernst said of Trump, to groans from the crowd.
"I think he's brash," Ernst continued, "and I think that ... that he says things that are on his mind. But, you know, I don't truly believe that he's a racist."
Trump's rant in the Oval Office last week has been widely condemned as racist. He complained about accepting immigrants from predominantly black "shithole countries," rather than from countries like Norway. The only remaining question is whether Trump said "shithole countries," or the arguably more racist "shithouse countries."
But that rant is just the latest in Trump's long history of overt racism.
Ernst is not up for re-election in 2018, but if Trump manages to remain in office long enough to seek a second term, Ernst will be riding Trump's toxic coattails in 2020.
But hundreds of other Republicans are trying to avoid a blue wave wipeout in 2018, and weak responses like Ernst's are not going to cut it with voters who are fed up with Trump.