Trump's attack on Democrats as "treasonous" is not a laughing matter. But the White House clearly doesn't get that.

Criticism of Donald Trump’s outrageous accusation that Democrats were “treasonous” and “un-American” for not applauding his State of the Union address left his spokesperson flat-footed and lashing out at Trump’s critics.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was clearly unprepared to respond to criticism of Trumps’s inflammatory and offensive attack.

At Tuesday’s daily briefing, CBS News’ Major Garrett read a quote from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who said, “I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the President’s comments were meant as a joke. Just sarcasm. Only tongue-in-cheek. But treason is not a punchline.”

Garrett asked Sanders whether she agreed with Flake, that “treason, or treasonous, is not a joking matter.”

Instead of agreeing that no one, least of all the president, should joking accuse critics of treason, Sanders was stunned into awkward silence.

“Honestly, I’m not going to respond directly to Sen. Flake’s comments,” Sanders said eventually. “I don’t care what Sen. Flake has to say. I don’t think his constituents do, either, and that’s why his numbers are in the tank. The president was clearly joking with his comments.”

Garrett’s question, of course, was not whether Trump was joking, but whether accusing political opponents of “treason” — particularly for refusing to applaud a speech — is in any way appropriate or funny.

It’s not a surprise that Sanders didn’t know how to answer the question. Last July, when Trump addressed a crowd of law enforcement officials and openly encouraged more police brutality against “thugs,” telling them not “be too nice,” Sanders laughed it off as “a joke.”

 

There is nothing funny about Trump’s accusations, and Sanders’ refusal to say so shows just how willing she is to excuse Trump’s behavior, no matter how inappropriate.

As Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said Tuesday in a powerful speech condemning Trump’s comments, “This is not a dictatorship, it’s a democracy, and we do not have to stand for a reality show host masquerading as president of the United States of America.”