Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are playing the Washington, D.C., word game of the moment, in which they say they are supporting Donald Trump for president, but not endorsing him.
There is no real difference between "support" and "endorse," but Murkowski and Sullivan would love it if the former could signify a bare minimum level of approval, like a "D" in political science class.
They've declared their support for candidate Trump in no uncertain terms, but they want an escape hatch, using what one Washington Post copy editor calls the "nonendorsement endorsement."
Undefined gradations of support will be lost on all those who are not in politics and rely on dictionary definitions. It's not as if there are gold, silver and bronze achievement levels.
Endorse means "to give approval to; support; sanction." Support means "to give approval to or be or be in favor of; subscribe to; uphold."
Murkowski and Sullivan could solve this by saying their support translates into a half-hearted endorsement of Trump, but that would make them appear half-hearted.
Clearly, they are uneasy about Trump and don't want to be forced to defend his off-the-wall utterances. They'd probably like to build a wall between him and them, getting Trump to pay for it.
They don't want to outright oppose the presumptive GOP leader, giving backhanded support to Democrat Hillary Clinton, so the nonendorsement endorsement allows them to have it both ways.
I doubt it will work in Alaska or anywhere else where unsettled GOP politicians are using the same gimmick.
As for the Murkowski re-election campaign, she's going to need a better response than no response as to what it means to support Trump, but not endorse him.
When she announced her position in early May, Murkowski said nothing about Trump's virtues, only that she has always backed the GOP nominee and he is not Clinton.
Rep. Don Young said pretty much the same thing. No matter what Trump does, that will make it hard for him to lose the half-hearted support of the Alaska congressional delegation.
The other day Murkowski and Sullivan joined much of the GOP establishment in objecting to Trump's racist attack and tirade against a federal judge from Indiana who is hearing a court case against Trump University.
"No racist comments are acceptable in any place, at any time, for any reason," Murkowski said through a campaign spokeswoman.
Sullivan, appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday, said Trump was wrong, but the senator refused to answer repeated questions about whether Trump's remarks were racist. He said Trump should talk about the economy and national security, and stop these "self-inflicted wounds."
"Do you agree with Paul Ryan that the statements that he made about the federal judge were racist?" host Scarborough asked.
"Look, the statements were equating ethnicity with bias, which goes against all, everything that we believe in," said Sullivan.
Asked a second time if it was racist, Sullivan said, "Look, I'll let you guys label it." Asked a third time, he said, "I think the statement was clearly wrong and I called for him to retract it."
Trump did not retract his statements, but claimed he was misunderstood and that he won't talk about it again. My guess is he won't be able to stop himself.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also ducked the racism question three times on "Meet the Press," saying he "couldn't disagree more" with Trump.
Alaska's senators are far from the only Trump supporters who are withholding their applause and hoping his behavior will change.
When House Speaker Ryan, R-Wis., announced last week "I'll be voting for him this fall," he did so in a newspaper column in which it appeared he had become a Trump Supporter in Name Only. He never said he was supporting Trump or endorsing Trump.
It took a statement from a Ryan spokesperson to clarify what the speaker was trying to say in his column about Trump: "We're not playing word games, feel free to call it an endorsement."
I'm waiting for a similar announcement from Murkowski and Sullivan to clarify the nonendorsement endorsement.
Columnist Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.