Republicans now face an impossible task: denouncing racism while supporting a racist. They have no one but themselves to blame.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned Donald Trump’s remarks about a federal judge as “textbook” racism, just days after dismissing them as“out of left field,”. Trump’s rhetoric is straight out of “right field,” an undiluted brew of racial resentment the GOP has been serving up for decades.
“He’s a Mexican,” Trump said of U.S. federal judge Gonzalo Curiel to CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings – rulings that people can’t even believe.” It took 23 follow-up attempts on Tapper’s part before he got an answer on whether Trump thought that saying someone couldn’t do a job on the basis of his race was the definition of racism. “No, I don’t think so at all,” Trump finally said.
Curiel, who was born in Indiana, unsealed damning documents in the case against Trump University on the same day as Trump’s remarks. The documents include a “playbook” which reveals that Trump University employees were instructed to target vulnerable potential students, and pressure them into buying the most expensive package possible. The materials are part of a class action fraud suit brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schniederman.
Trump took his crusade to have Curiel removed from the case on the road, saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “I say he’s got bias. I want to build a wall. I’m going to build a wall. When host John Dickerson asked if Trump if he thought a Muslim judge would biased because of Trumps proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. ”It’s possible, yes. Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely,“ Trump said. At a weekend rally in San Diego, Trump called the judge a ”hater,“ and told attendees that Curiel, ”we believe, is Mexican.“ Defending his charge in the Wall Street Journal, Trump edited his claim that Curiel is ”Mexican” to acknowledging that Curiel is a Mexican heritage.
Trump, being Trump, couldn’t help making things worse. On “Face The Nation,” Trump suggested that a Muslim judge would be biased on the basis of religion. When asked by host John Dickerson if it was likely a Muslim judge would be so biased, Trump answered, “It’s possible, yes. Yeah. That would be possible, absolutely.” On Monday, Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that it’s possible female judges would be biased too. Blitzed noted that Trump’s sister is a federal judge.
Let you think African-Americans were left unscathed, Trump may not have said much about African-American judges, but he showed an unsettling habit of talking about black people in a manner that’s been out of fashion for at least half a century. Trump was speaking at a California rally about the support he claims to enjoy among African-Americans when he spotted one in the audience and exclaimed, “Look at my African-American over there.”
It turned out that the guy wasn’t even a Trump supporter.
Then there was the retweet of a family of supposed African-American Trump supporters.
It turned out to be an unauthorized picture of a family at the Midwest Black Family Reunion, that does not support Trump.
On Tuesday, surrounded by top GOP House members and activists, Speaker Ryan (R-Wisc.) carefully disavowed the comments, but not the guy who made them. Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel were, Ryan said, “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” but stopped there. “It’s absolutely unacceptable,” Ryan said, but stood by his recent endorsement of Trump. “Do I think Hillary Clinton is the answer? No I do not.”
Ryan’s defense of his Trump endorsement had more to do with math than ideology. “He won fair and square,” Ryan told radio host Jay Weber. In other words, Ryan is sticking by his endorsement of Trump because the GOP is stuck with him.
With Trump as the presumptive nominee, barring some behind-the-scene convention shenanigans that will almost certainly blow up in their faces, Republicans are stuck with the impossible task of denouncing racism, while supporting a racist.
Ryan is not the only Republican to speak out against Trump’s smearing of Judge Curiel — or to stop short of refusing to endorse Trump.
- Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter named as a potential running mate said, “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.”
- Sen. Tim Scott (R-N.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate, condemned Trump’ statements about Curiel as “radically toxic.”
- Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said that he “can’t at this point” support the GOP’s presumptive nominee, adding that Trump raised his racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric to “a whole new level” in his attacks on Curiel.
- Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) slammed Trump’s remarks against Curiel as “offensive and wrong,” and said that Trump should retract them, but added that she’d still vote for him.
- Sen. Sue Collins (R-Maine) said in an interview that Trump’s attack on Curiel was “an order of magnitude more serious” more serious than anything he’s said before. Collins added that she hasn’t ruled out supporting Hillary Clinton, though it’s unlikely.
- Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), chairman of the Republican Study Committee said of Trump, “I will vote for him, but in terms of getting my endorsement, endorse people that bash a judge on his ethnic heritage.” Yes, Rep. Flores, you do. If you’re endorsing Trump, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says he’ll vote for Trump, but “I stand by everything I said during the campaign.” So Rubio is going to vote for a guy he said he wouldn’t trust with nuclear codes.
- Several senators joined Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in condemning Trump’s rhetoric. “I couldn’t disagree more with a statement like that,” McConnell said of Trump’s remarks. yet McConnell is happy to put the judiciary in Trump’s hands.
- Citing Trump’s racist remarks, Republican Iowa state Sen. David Johnson quit the Republican party, and announced his was switching his party registration to “no party.”
- Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Curiel to the bench in 2007, spoke out in the judge’s defense, calling Curiel an “American Hero.”
- MSNBC host Joe Scarborough begged Republicans to distance themselves from Trump, but it looks like that train left the station already. After all, Republicans are fresh out of alternatives now.
- Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said that Trump “widened the net of ‘not-Americans,’ or ‘people who are not impartial because of their ethnicity,’ to now include Muslims,” and said that Trump is “revealing who he is.”
- Fox News host Megyn Kelly denounced calls by some — including fellow Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly — for Curiel to recuse himself, and demanded of Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson, “what is it about the judge’s heritage that makes him unable to hear the case?”
Democrats got in on the action too.
- Democrat and presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton won the internet with a devastatingly blunt Twitter response to Trump: “Delete your account.”
- President Obama joined Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” to “slow jam the news” one more time, and slammed Trump. Fallon asked the president if he’d kept up with election coverage. Obama answered that he’s been to busy watching “my new favorite TV show — ’Orange Is Not The New Black.”
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in another epic screed called Trump a “racist” and a “small insecure, thin-skinned, wannabe tyrant.” Warren added, “Trump isn’t a different kind of candidate. Donald Trump chose racism as his weapon, but his aim is exactly the same as the rest of the Republicans.”
Trump did have some defenders, of course.
- Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is always there for Trump. The ex-Grand Wizard launched into an anti-Semitic tirade against the Jewish-run media he claimed were manufacturing outrage over Trump’s comments because Trump is a threat to the “Jewish agenda.” No word on whether Trump has reconsidered his disavowal of Duke, or Duke’s offer to be Trump’s vice president.
- In an American Spectator article, faithful Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord trashed Ryan and McConnell for not standing up to the “real” racist: Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Lord went on to claim that Trump is the true victim of racism, and McConnell and Ryan are at fault for not coming to his defense.
- Right-wing blowhard Ann Coulter did what Trump asked his supporters to do, and sustain the attack on Curiel. In her column this week, Coulter made fun of “the media” calling Trump a racist, and defended Trump’s questioning of the judge’s heritage.
Days earlier, Ryan tried to brush of Trump’s remarks as, “out of left field.” Nothing count be farther from the truth. Trump’s attack on judge Curiel is straight out of right field — torn from the playbook Republicans have been using for decades to keep the base stirred up with racist fears and resentments.
It seems to have worked too well, because way too many Republicans apparently share Trump’s brand of racism. A new YouGov survey shows that 57 percent of Americans think Trump’s remarks against Curiel were wrong, and only 20 percent think Trump was right to complain that Curiel had a conflict of interest due to his heritage. Republicans were more — 43 percent to 29 percent — evenly divided on whether Trump’s complaints were right or wrong. But only 22 percent of Republicans say that Trump’s comments were racist, compared to 81 percent of Democrats.
It has finally dawned on the GOP elite that their presumptive nominee is an actual racist. More than a year after kicking off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and murders, and then proceeded to offend just about every group the Republican’s 2013 “post-mortem” said the party needed to win over to have a political future, Some Republican elite are beginning to realize just how big of a pickle they’re in.
As WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin wrote, the GOP has managed to turn what Republicans once claimed was a bad rap that Republicans are racists into a “accurate, deadly analysis, ” that too many Republicans harbor racist views and/or don’t recognize racism when its right in front of them.”
Oh, they recognize it, alright. Just like a duck recognizes another duck. It’s just that when a candidate looks like duck, walks like a duck, and sounds even more like a duck than a duck, Republican can’t bring themselves to call him a duck — because they knew who they were endorsing.
It’s too close to home.