Republican politicians descended to such depths of shamefulness last week that it is difficult to say who was most indefensibly awful.

But let’s try.

With his crude go-back-where-you-came-from tweets attacking Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, President Trump confirmed that he is every bit as racist and xenophobic as his record suggests. Then he doubled down on the racism and xenophobia with a North Carolina rally where he targeted four congresswomen of color by name — inspiring chants of “send her back” after he tore into Omar, the only one of the four who was not born in the United States.

The hate-mongering grew so foul that even the president tried to back away from the ugliness, claiming that he tried to dial down the “send her back” frenzy. He didn’t. But it is oddly reassuring that Trump felt a need to lie about his words and deeds after he heard the popular outcry over the damage he was doing to civil society and American democracy.

The same thing happened to Congressman Sean Duffy, the northern Wisconsin Republican who invariably rushes to defend the president’s most noxious statements. Duffy was so ardent in his championship of Trump last week that he earned national attention, after the AP reported that, “Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin calls the four minority congresswomen targeted by President Donald Trump's controversial tweets ‘anti-American.’” Duffy later claimed that he his remarks were misinterpreted. They weren’t. But, again, it is at least somewhat encouraging that Duffy felt a need to distance himself from his reprehensible assertion.

Trump and Duffy are who they are. It’s predictable that they will flail about, say awful things and shame themselves.

But the most revealing Republican performance of last week was that of Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher, who is fast becoming the new Paul Ryan. Like the former speaker, Gallagher wants to have it both ways. He wants to be seen as a reasonable Republican who is not as bigoted as the president, but he refuses to actually stand up to the president.

Gallagher tried to sound reasonable last week, announcing that, “Chants like ‘send her back’ are abhorrent. If we are going to get anything done in Congress, we need to find a way to take the temperature down and rediscover common ground.”

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Yet, just like Duffy, Gallagher refused to join House Democrats and responsible Republicans such as Will Hurd of Texas in voting last week to “strongly condemn President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”

What made Paul Ryan such a disappointing political careerist was his scorching hypocrisy. He “objected” to Trump but failed to oppose the president when it mattered. Unfortunately, Mike Gallagher has the same tendency to make pious pronouncements that he never quite backs up when he gets to the floor of the House.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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