A defiant Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE is refusing to backtrack over racially charged remarks he made last week, and the controversy has opened up a major divide between the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and senior GOP leaders.
The damage to Trump’s presidential bid escalated on Monday as a growing number of Republicans sought distance from him. The billionaire businessman has said that a judge presiding over lawsuits against Trump University would not give him a fair hearing because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. The issue dominated cable news networks over the weekend and into Monday.
Republican calls for Trump to walk back the comments or apologize have mounted. But true to his style, he is doubling down.
Trump instructed his supporters during a conference call Monday to defend his criticism of the judge and grew angry when he learned that his own campaign staff had sent a memo urging surrogates not to talk about the charged issue, according to a report by Bloomberg Politics.
Trump told his backers to “take that order and throw it the hell out” when informed of the memo circulated by campaign aide Erica Freeman, Bloomberg reported, citing sources who shared notes from the call.
A Trump campaign source who received the Sunday message from Freeman confirmed that she had told staff and surrogates that Trump University was not part of the campaign’s activities and therefore should not be discussed.
“We were not to talk about it, that there would be no talking points attached to it, and no directions from the campaign related to that issue,” the source said, paraphrasing his recollection of the email.
Trump’s penchant for pushing forward in the face of controversies has made him a hero among voters who are tired of political correctness. He believes the best strategy is to defend and attack — not apologize.
Trump sees no reason to change what was a winning formula in the Republican primary, putting knots in the stomachs of party leaders like Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse to act on debt ceiling next week White House warns GOP of serious consequences on debt ceiling Lindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees MORE (R-Ky.).
“I just don’t see someone walking into Mr. Trump’s office and saying we really need to apologize,” said Chip Saltsman, a GOP strategist who served as an adviser to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign.
“If somebody in Washington is holding their breath, waiting to give their endorsement on an apology, they’re going to be waiting a long time,” he said. “There are so many people in this country who are just sick and tired of our elected officials being apologetic for everything.”
When Trump spoke to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference last month, it sparked hope among Washington Republicans of a long-awaited pivot to the general election and a more presidential demeanor.
Those hopes, however, were dashed by Trump’s assertion last week that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over civil suits against Trump University, has “an inherent conflict of interest” because of Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants.
“I don’t think anyone is working on a strategy of how to engage Latino voters, and from what I see there is no serious analysis or assessment of the impact Mr. Trump’s comments are having on the Latino electorate,” Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said of his “limited contact” with Trump’s advisers.
“This is not rocket science. Just not talking is not that difficult, but he doubles down and triples down on these comments,” he said.
Aguilar said there are Latino conservatives and Republicans who want to work with Trump but warned that his campaign risks shutting them out.
“In a general election, you need to build a broader coalition, and so far I just don’t see it, and it’s very frustrating,” Aguilar added.
The new fracture in the Republican Party comes as President Obama is reportedly attempting to unify Democrats around Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE after a divisive primary. The Trump comments on Curiel are expected to dominate the political discussion this week, especially with lawmakers returning to the nation’s capital following the Memorial Day recess.
Before the latest flap, the most damning anti-Hispanic comment critics could point to was Trump’s assertion that Mexican criminals have streamed across the southern border.
Many Republicans view his attack on Curiel as bigoted, and he is getting no cover whatsoever from GOP legislators.
“Saying someone can’t do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of ‘racism,’ ” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who is not supporting Trump in the general election, tweeted.
Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (N.H.), one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents, said Trump’s comments were “offensive and wrong and he should retract them.”
Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioMilley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE (Fla.), one of the GOP’s most prominent Hispanic leaders, said the remarks do not reflect well on the party or the nation.
“I think it’s wrong,” Rubio, who ran against Trump in the primary, told WFTV in Florida. “He needs to stop saying it.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who also lost to Trump in the presidential primary, called on Trump to apologize to Curiel and to try to unite the country.
He tweeted “it is flat out wrong” to attack a judge based on race or religion.
Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump after running against the billionaire businessman, tweeted Monday, “Every human being is an individual first rather than a member of an identity group. The moment we forget that is the moment we enter into a phase of moral descent.”
Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), who is not backing Trump, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that his comments are “offensive” and had sunk to “a whole new level.” More than 30 percent of his state’s population is Hispanic.
Even some Republicans more favorably disposed to Trump were appalled.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who has been floated as a potential running mate, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the remarks were “inexcusable.”
But instead of feeling chastened, Trump is fighting back, as he has throughout the campaign.
“I saw Newt and I was surprised at Newt. I thought it was inappropriate what he said,” Trump said Monday on “Fox & Friends.”
Democrats have pounced on the discord and are using Trump’s words to bludgeon GOP candidates down-ballot.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (Nev.) on Monday bashed McConnell for not explicitly denouncing Trump during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
McConnell said he “couldn’t disagree more with what he had to say” but declined to condemn the statement as racist.
“Sen. McConnell repeatedly refused to say Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel’s ethnicity are racist. This is precisely the type of failure that gave rise to Donald Trump in the first place,” Reid argued on the Senate floor.
Republican strategists, realizing there’s little that can be done to corral Trump, say the party’s best strategy may be to elevate other voices who are seen as more inclusive of Hispanic perspectives, such as Rubio.
“Republicans have to ensure that voters hear from a wide variety of voices in the Republican Party to reflect the big tent that it’s built under,” said Josh Holmes, a former senior aide to McConnell. “The point is the Republican Party is not a single voice and never has been. It’s important for voters to understand the different perspectives in the party.”
Ben Kamisar and Jonathan Swan contributed.