Republicans are finally beginning to question Donald Trump as their 2016 presidential nominee, saying Trump’s doubling down on attacking a federal judge with Mexican heritage was one of the more overtly racist statements from the GOP in years.
“If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, told the New York Times. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”
“There are a lot of people who want to be loyal to the Republican Party, including me,” Graham told NBC on Tuesday. “There’ll come a point in time where we’re gonna have to understand that it’s not just about the 2016 race, it’s about the future of the party, and I would like to support our nominee: I just can’t.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Trump’s statements that Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing a lawsuit brought by Trump University students who say they were ripped off, should recuse himself because of his ethnic heritage are “textbook racism.”
“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said Tuesday, at a Washington press conference to feature his latest anti-poverty plan. “It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Whether the Republican Party will coalesce around the need to pick another nominee is a big and open question. Some Republican National Committee members have said the party’s rules allow its national convention delegates to break with results from primaries and caucuses. However, that would have to be the first order of business when the convention convenes in late July.
In the meantime, the question of how far Trump can go before being rejected by the GOP is escalating. Trump knows that disclosures surrounding his predatory business practices as part of the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in California are exceptionally damaging. It is his pattern to ramp up the rhetoric to distract from coverage he dislikes. However, in this case, Trump's racist attacks appear to be crossing a line even among Republicans, who for years have pursued many policies alienating communities of color.
On Tuesday afternoon, apparently bowing to pressure, his campaign issued a statement in which Trump did not apologize and again said the judge should be removed, but added he would not be commenting further.
Below is a list of comments from more than a dozen Republicans who have slammed Trump’s attacks but not rejected his candidacy. The comments were compiled by the Clinton campaign, which issued a release saying, "While it's striking that so many Republicans have called out their nominee for his attacks on Judge Curiel, many Republicans are continuing to stand by their endorsement of Trump, seemingly unconcerned about the power a President Trump would have to actually nominate judges and justices."
• Sen. Ben Sasse [R-NE]: "Saying someone can't do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of racism."
• Sen. Susan Collins [R-ME]: "Donald Trump's comments on the ethnic heritage and religion of judges are absolutely unacceptable. His statement that Judge Curiel could not rule fairly because of his Mexican heritage does not represent our American values. Mr. Trump's comments demonstrate both a lack of respect for the judicial system and the principle of separation of powers."
• Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R-UT]: "I think people are disturbed that you would want to try to dismiss a judge based on his ethnicity. You can have qualms with how he's ruling in the case, you can have qualms about his political affiliation, I think that's fair game. But why doesn't he say, look it's up to the attorneys, it's in the court, and leave it at that?"
• Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL]: "That man [Curiel] is an American, born in the U.S., a judge who has earned that position. I don’t think it reflects well in the Republican Party. I don’t think it reflects wells on us as a nation."
• Ohio Governor John Kasich: “Attacking judges based on their race and/or religion is another tactic that divides our country. More importantly, it is flat-out wrong.”
• Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: "I don’t know what Trump’s reasoning was, and I don’t care. His description of the judge in terms of his parentage is completely unacceptable."
• Brian Walsh, former communications director for Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn: “I don't care if [Trump’s] the nominee— Republicans should loudly condemn this racist, nonsensical rhetoric by Trump.”
• Sen. Rob Portman [R-OH]: "The fact that the judge has a Mexican American heritage has nothing to do with how you should describe his judicial ability. The guy was born in Indiana. He’s as American as I am."
• Rep. Jackie Walorski [R-IN]: “Questioning a judge’s impartiality based on his ethnicity is not only inappropriate, it has no place in American society."
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY]: "I couldn't disagree more." [with Trump's remarks]
• Sen. Bob Corker [R-TN]: "I don’t condone the comments."
• Sen. Jeff Flake [R-AZ]: “His statements this week on the judge—that’s a new level... Because it’s not just… ill-informed or ignorant statements, but they suggest that when he’s president, you know, after November, that… perhaps he ought to go after that judge. That’s a whole new level. So that’s—it’s very disturbing.”
• Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush: "I'm not supporting Donald Trump's comments. ... The call for a recusal of a judge based solely on ethnicity in my judgment is wrong and to do it publicly in my judgment demeans the judge and really does hurt the reputation of the judiciary, and I just think it was inappropriate the way that Donald Trump did it in this case.”