What Is Donald Trump Jr. Talking About?

The Republican nominee’s son appeared to make a casual joke about the Holocaust—but his claims about his father’s honesty and why he won’t release his tax returns deserve scrutiny, too.

Carlo Allegri / Twitter

One theory for Donald Trump’s recent surge in the polls is that the Republican nominee has gotten better at staying on message. But sometimes the apple does far fall from the tree, because Donald Trump Jr. has not proven quite so deft.

Trump Jr. has committed a pair of notable gaffes in the last 24 hours. First, during a meeting with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, he delivered a perfect example of a Kinsley gaffe—when a politician or surrogate accidentally tells the truth. There has been a steady and growing drumbeat of questions about why Donald Trump won’t release his tax returns, and Trump Jr. explained it this way: “Because he's got a 12,000-page tax return that would create … financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would detract from (his father's) main message.”

In other words, in the face of suggestions that Donald Trump won’t release his tax returns because something in them could be politically damaging, his son admitted that Trump won’t release his tax returns because something in them could be politically damaging.

The second is perhaps less meaningful but more surprising. Speaking to a Philadelphia-area talk radio station, Donald Jr. said:

The media has been her number one surrogate in this. Without the media, this wouldn’t even be a contest, but the media has built her up. They’ve let her slide on every indiscrepancy, on every lie, on every DNC game trying to get Bernie Sanders out of this thing. If Republicans were doing that, they’d be warming up the gas chamber right now.

It was that last phrase—“warming up the gas chamber”—that immediately caught attention, since it comes across as a casual Holocaust joke. Such humor is stunning territory, even for a campaign that has dulled the nation’s sense with a deluge of such comments. Donald Jr. might get more benefit of the doubt if not for his track record: appearing on a white-supremacist radio show in May (he said he was unaware of the host’s views), retweeting white supremacists, and passing along their Pepe memes.

But the substance of Donald Jr.’s complaint deserves scrutiny too. He argues that Clinton has been allowed to slide on lies, and that his father could never get away with such behavior. The Democrat has faced some tough coverage over the last week over her delay in admitting she had pnuemonia and ongoing questions about the Clinton Foundation and her emails. These stories are worth pursuing, and a presidential candidate has to answer tough questions. But the idea that Donald Trump does not lie is comical. Trump lied about self-funding his campaign. He lies about what he said publicly. He admitted in a deposition to lying in business. He has amassed a long record of lies on PolitiFact. In fact, Trump’s innovation may have been to lie so frequently and so baldly that it voters and the press become desensitized. It’s a post-modern, post-truth candidacy.

Meanwhile, Donald Jr.’s sister Ivanka conducted a painful interview with Cosmopolitan on Wednesday, in which she seemed unprepared to talk about her father’s family-leave plan. It was barely two months ago that some pundits said Trump should get off the trail and let his kids do the campaigning. These days, maybe it’d be best to keep the younger Trumps out of the spotlight.