On Tuesday's The Situation Room, liberal CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and correspondent Kaitlan Collins got into a surprising debate over whether it was appropriate for President Donald Trump to call himself a "nationalist" as Collins claimed that the word "nationalism" had become "like Hitler" while Toobin seemed out of character as he defended the President.
At 5:37 p.m. Eastern, after Toobin at one point admitted that he might call himself a "nationalist," Collins was taken aback after he described a "nationalist" as "someone who believes in the United States." Collins fired back: "I believe in the United States -- I'm not a nationalist. Hitler was a nationalist."
Toobin dismissively responded: "Oh, please, come on. I mean, that term has not become like Hitler."
Collins insisted: "It has! That is why people do not use the word 'nationalist' because it has a negative connotation. It is not the nationalism of Teddy Roosevelt in the 1920s."
Earlier in the segment, Toobin had cited his own history of accusing President Trump of "racism" as he added that, in this case, he did not see a racial motivation in generally using the word "nationalism." Toobin:
I don't see anything wrong with the word "nationalism," and I would hate to see it coopted entirely by these reactionary forces. Theodore Roosevelt's program was called "The New Nationalism." The struggle in American foreign policy between internationalists and isolationists -- sometimes called nationalists rather than isolationists.
I mean, that's a real thing in this country, and I don't think nationalism is just a code word for white people. He does so much actual racism, I think we should criticize him for the actual racism rather than what I think is an unfair criticism for this.
After looking visibly agitated over Toobin's analysis, Collins jumped in:
But President Trump doesn't get to change the definition of words. If he says, "I'm a racist, but it's not the kind that hates other races," that doesn't mean that that's what "racist" means now. When he says, "I'm a nationalist," "nationalist" has a negative connotation. It has for years.
Zeleny soon proclaimed, as evidenced by many audience members not giving much reaction to the word after President Trump used it, that "it was a dog whistle, I have no doubt at all."
Host Wolf Blitzer soon jumped in to bolster Collins's take on the meaning of "nationalist" as he turned to Toobin and posed:
It's one thing when Teddy Roosevelt was talking about nationalism, but in the current environment where there are these so-called white nationalists out there, and even Steve Bannon was saying you got to talk about nationalism, nationalism, nationalism. It's a different environment today than it was 100 years ago.
Toobin argued that nationalism has been a "venerable political tradition" in the U.S., and that the term is "sufficiently broad that it can be used in polite company without immediate association with racism."