Trump puts GOP on the edge with judge com­ments

Says words mis­con­strued; Ryan slams ‘racist’ re­marks

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN AND DAVID SHERFINSKI

Don­ald Trump ended the pri­mary sea­son much as he be­gan it: en­gulfed in controversy over his brash per­son­al­ity and re­marks about Mex­i­cans.

As the fi­nal Repub­li­can vot­ers cast pres­i­den­tial pri­mary bal­lots in Cal­i­for­nia and four other states, Mr. Trump was try­ing to put out fires he ig­nited af­ter he said a fed­eral judge was bi­ased be­cause of his Mex­i­can her­itage.

The bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man said his com­ments were be­ing “mis­con­strued,” but panic was set­ting in among fel­low Repub­li­cans who were brac­ing for a gen­eral elec­tion tied to an un­pre­dictable can­di­date.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Mr. Trump sounded “racist” by ques­tion­ing Judge Gon­zalo Curiel’s im­par­tial­ity, while Sen. Mark Kirk re­scinded his en­dorse­ment of Mr. Trump, say­ing the crit­i­cism of the judge was “un-Amer­i­can.” A state sen­a­tor in Iowa re­nounced his mem­ber­ship in the GOP com­pletely.

Mr. Trump said the press had treated him un­fairly, treat­ing his at­tack on the judge as an at­tack on all Mex­i­cans and His­pan­ics. He pointed to his Mex­i­can and His­panic friends and em­ploy­ees as ev­i­dence he is not against His­pan­ics, only Judge Curiel.

“Nor­mally, le­gal is­sues in a civil case would be heard in a neu­tral en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, given my unique cir­cum­stances as nom­i­nee of the Repub­li­can Party and the core is­sues of my cam­paign that fo­cus on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, jobs and un­fair trade, I have con­cerns as to my abil­ity to re­ceive a fair trial,” he said in a lengthy state­ment.

Speak­ing at an elec­tion night party out­side New York City, Mr. Trump looked to soothe the nerves of Repub­li­cans who may be get­ting cold feet about his can­di­dacy, thank­ing vot­ers for the “honor to lead the Repub­li­can Party to vic­tory this fall” against Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“I un­der­stand the re­spon­si­bil­ity of car­ry­ing the man­tle, and I will never, ever let you down,” Mr. Trump said, read­ing in un­char­ac­ter­is­tic fash­ion from a teleprompter. “I will make you proud of your party and our move­ment.”

Up un­til now, Mr. Trump has de­fied the pun­dits that pre­dicted over and over again that his brash per­son­al­ity would even­tu­ally lead to his down­fall.

“If you said two years ago that Don­ald Trump was go­ing to be the pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee and run­ning away with the race, you prob­a­bly would have been com­mit­ted to a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion,” said Ford O’Con­nell, a Repub­li­can Party strate­gist who worked on Sen. John Mc­Cain’s 2008 cam­paign. “And yet here we are, and part of what has given rise to Trump is an ab­so­lute dis­dain for Wash­ing­ton, D.C., pol­i­tics and the estab­lish­ment of the Repub­li­can Party.”

Those power bro­kers in Wash­ing­ton, how­ever, are in­creas­ingly strug­gling with Mr. Trump as their party leader.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell re­peat­edly fended off re­porters’ ques­tions about Mr. Trump, say­ing Congress is deal­ing with big­ger is­sues.

Mean­while, Mr. Ryan, at­tempt­ing to roll out an agen­daset­ting anti-poverty plan, found him­self try­ing to ex­plain his en­dorse­ment of Mr. Trump de­spite the judge controversy. Mr. Ryan said ques­tion­ing the judge’s im­par­tial­ity was the “text­book def­i­ni­tion of a racist com­ment.”

“I fun­da­men­tally dis­agree with that,” Mr. Ryan said. “I think it’s wrong.”

The New York Daily News poked fun at Mr. Ryan’s re­sponse, tweet­ing out a pic­ture of its front page news­pa­per show­ing Mr. Ryan point­ing at Mr. Trump with the head­line “I’m With Racist!”

The controversy is the lat­est for Mr. Trump, who be­gan his cam­paign bat­tling with Macy’s and Univi­sion over his com­ments about Mex­i­cans, went on to spar with veter­ans groups af­ter ques­tion­ing 2008 GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mr. Mc­Cain’s hero­ism for his time in a Viet­namese pris­oner-of-war camp and saw his cam­paign ral­lies in­ter­rupted by spates of vi­o­lence.

He also sur­vived con­tro­ver­sial re­marks he made about for­mer Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fio­r­ina’s face, which led to ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ism. And he called for a ban on Mus­lim vis­i­tors to the U.S. to head off ter­ror­ist threats.

Amid it all, Mr. Trump steam­rolled his com­pe­ti­tion. He stood atop the na­tional polls al­most wire to wire, and while he placed sec­ond in Iowa’s kick­off cau­cuses, he won New Hamp­shire’s pri­mary and never re­lin­quished his lead in the del­e­gate count.

“The most valu­able as­set that Trump had go­ing for him through­out the pri­mary was that he was not a politi­cian,” said Mike Duhaime, a GOP strate­gist and long­time ad­viser to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “Noth­ing any­one said, in­clud­ing the con­tro­ver­sial things he said him­self, sup­planted that nar­ra­tive. In many ways, they re­in­forced this per­ceived strength with the vot­ers.”

The jury is out, how­ever, on whether Mr. Trump’s re­marks will hurt him mov­ing for­ward.

“What worked in the pri­maries is not go­ing to work in the gen­eral,” said Kevin Sheri­dan, a GOP strate­gist. “If Trump is in­ca­pable of piv­ot­ing to the gen­eral elec­tion, he will get trounced.”

Larry Ja­cobs, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota, said Mr. Trump can­not rely on per­son­al­ity alone to drive him to vic­tory in a gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign, and said he is start­ing out well be­hind Mr. Rom­ney and, to a lesser ex­tent, Mr. Mc­Cain when it comes to de­vel­op­ing the sort of cam­paign op­er­a­tion needed to win a race for The White House in the mod­ern era.

“It is a very am­a­teur­ish op­er­a­tion,” Mr. Ja­cobs said. “I think the big­gest dam­age Trump is go­ing to do is not turn­ing off Repub­li­can vot­ers, it is just that he is not show­ing up with a mod­ern or­ga­ni­za­tion that, frankly, the en­tire party re­lies on.

“This could be the worst pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of the mod­ern era, pe­riod. That is what it is shap­ing up as,” he said.

That’s all the more stun­ning be­cause of Mr. Trump’s per­for­mance in the pri­maries.

Even be­fore last week’s fi­nal con­tests, Mr. Trump had won more than 11.6 mil­lion votes, or about 42 per­cent of the more than 28 mil­lion cast dur­ing the pri­mary sea­son, ac­cord­ing to

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