Though presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says something outrageous on almost a daily basis, I can’t get over his incredibly offensive comments this week about U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel. On Thursday he said out loud that a judge should not hear the case involving alleged fraud by one of his companies, because Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” creates “an absolute conflict.”
Trump doubled down in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper yesterday. Media Matters posted the partial transcript, and I’ve enclosed excerpts below. Trump repeatedly asserted he has been “treated very unfairly” by Judge Curiel, because “I’m building a wall” along the Mexican border. He called Curiel “Mexican” even though the judge is a native-born U.S. citizen and repeatedly said the judge is “proud of his heritage,” as if that should be disqualifying. He also claimed the case involving Trump University should have been over two years ago–but if that’s the case, what does the wall have to do with it? Trump only started talking about the border wall last year, as a presidential candidate.
I’ve never heard Republican strategist Ana Navarro sound as angry as she did while talking about these comments on CNN yesterday. Her kicker: “what he is doing is disgusting. I am livid about it, and if this is his strategy to win over Hispanics, he’s got a hell of a wake-up call coming to him come November.”
In early 2013, the Republican National Committee published its Growth & Opportunity Project, better known as the so-called “autopsy” on Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential campaign. A key point in that document concerned the need for Republicans to do a better job appealing to Latino voters. It’s hard to conceive of a candidate more alienating to that demographic than Trump. This week, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns reported for the New York Times that Ruth Guerra is resigning as head of the RNC’s Hispanic media relations because she did not want to work for Trump. Adrian Carrasquillo reported for Buzzfeed that Guerra’s replacement Helen Aguirre Ferré has been “very critical of Trump in a multitude of Spanish-language interviews” and wrote in now-deleted Tweets that she was #NeverTrump.
Every Iowa Republican who has promised to support Trump should be held accountable for the GOP standard-bearer’s bigoted view of a federal judge. Let’s start with Senator Chuck Grassley, who is preventing President Barack Obama from filling a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy in the hope that Trump will be able to name Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor. Does Grassley think whole ethnic groups should be disqualified from hearing certain kinds of cases?
UPDATE: Several prominent Republicans have condemned Trump’s remarks about Curiel, Dan Balz reported for the Washington Post. One of them was 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.” Maybe a Trump/Newt ticket isn’t the perfect match I thought it would be. LATER UPDATE: On June 6 Trump said on Fox News, “as far as Newt is concerned, I saw Newt, I was surprised at Newt, I thought it was inappropriate what he said.”
SECOND UPDATE: Grassley didn’t condemn Trump’s remarks during his meetings in meetings in three towns on June 3 as part of his 99-county tour. Asked to comment by Pat Rynard, Grassley said, “It would help him very much to be elected President of the U.S. if he would be a little more mild in his demeanor.” In other words, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has nothing to say about the substance of Trump’s beliefs about a federal judge’s ethnicity as disqualifying. But Grassley wishes Trump would display a different “demeanor” to improve his chances of winning the November election. Weak.
At Grassley’s Humboldt even, he dodged a question from someone else about Trump’s comments: “And the other point your brought up about what he says about a judge, I’ve already answered that–there’s a process for anybody that doesn’t like the judge you have, you think that judge isn’t going to be fair, you can file a petition. And if you file a petition that a judge should get out, and that judge says you shouldn’t get out, then you’ve got a right to appeal that to a higher court and get fair judgment that way.” Again, he did not address the central issue: the Republican candidate believes a judge whose parents came to this country from Mexico cannot be impartial.
Meanwhile, Trump refused to back down during a June 5 appearance on the CBS show “Face the Nation.” Now he says it’s “common sense” that being “proud of his heritage” is why Judge Curiel “not treating me fairly.” Furthermore, Trump told John Dickerson, it’s “possible” that a Muslim judge also would not be able to treat him fairly in court.
THIRD UPDATE: Added below some of Governor Terry Branstad’s outrageous comments on the story.
FOURTH UPDATE: Grassley spoke further about the subject to Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman. Excerpts are below.
TRUMP: Jake, I’m building a wall, okay? I’m building a wall. I’m trying to keep business out of Mexico. Mexico’s fine. There’s nothing —
TAPPER: But he’s American. He’s an American.
TRUMP: He’s of Mexican heritage, and he’s proud of it, as I am of where I come from.
TAPPER: But he’s an American. You keep talking about a conflict of interest, because of Mexico.
TRUMP: Are you ready? I have a case that should have been dismissed already. I have thousands of people saying Trump University’s fantastic, ok? I have a case that should have been dismissed. I have a judge that never ever gives a break. Now we lose the plaintiff. He lets the plaintiff of the case out. So why isn’t he cancelling the case? So we thought we won the case.
TAPPER: Is it not — When Hillary Clinton says this is a racist attack, you reject that, if you are saying he can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?
TRUMP: No. I don’t think so at all. He’s proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.
TAPPER: But you’re say he can’t do his job because of that.
TRUMP: Look, he’s proud of his heritage. I’m building a wall. Now, I think I’m going to do very well —
TAPPER: He’s a legal citizen.
TRUMP: I’m going to do very well with Hispanics because I’m going to bring back jobs and they’re going to get jobs right now. They’re going to get jobs. I think I’m going to do very well with Hispanics, but we’re building a wall. He’s a Mexican. 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. This case should have ended years ago on summary judgement. The best lawyers — I have spoken to so many lawyers, they said this is not a case. This is a case that should have ended. This judge is giving us unfair rulings. Now, I say why? Well, I’m building a wall, ok? And it’s a wall between Mexico, not another country and —
TAPPER: But he’s not from Mexico, he’s from Indiana.
TRUMP: Mexican heritage. And he’s very proud of it.
JUNE 6 UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson covered Branstad’s remarks when the Trump comments came up at the governor’s regular weekly press conference.
“I think it’s not smart to comment on any judge, especially a judge that’s going to handle your case,” Branstad said. “It certainly goes against conventional wisdom, but then again, he’s gone against a lot of conventional wisdom.” […]
“Most people that know Donald Trump know that he’s not a racist,” Branstad said, “and that he’s had tremendous relationships with minorities and he has a lot of minorities and women that have been in key positions in his business.”
Nor is Branstad suggesting Trump apologize.
“I’m not going to get into that. I mean, I guess my feeling is we should be focusing on the substance of the issues,” Branstad said. “I understand it’s 24/7 media and media just loves to focus on this stuff, but I’m interested in the direction this country’s going.”
What direction do you mean, governor? The one where a major party’s presidential nominee believes certain people can’t do their jobs professionally because of their ethnic heritage?
I love how Branstad says “most people” know Trump’s not a racist. He even translated the “some of his best friends are” cliche into Trump-ese by mentioning the billionaire’s “tremendous relationships with minorities.”
As Tapper pointed out on CNN and Jonathan Tobin did in this piece for Commentary, Trump’s “impulse to smear Curiel is pretty much the textbook definition of racism.”
FOURTH UPDATE: Excerpts from Bridget Bowman’s story for Roll Call on Grassley’s reaction to the latest Trump controversy.
“The president is only one-half of the process, as you know with [Judge Merrick] Garland. And the Senate’s the other half,” Grassley said Monday. “And we’re a check on the president.” […]
“I would not say what Trump said,” Grassley said. […]
Grassley also suggested Trump’s propensity for filing lawsuits showed some level of respect for the judicial branch.
“He must respect the judiciary,” Grassley said. “I’ve seen statistics that he’s won over 400 cases, only lost 30.” […]
Grassley said that the controversy over Trump’s comments was not all that important to his constituents. He said over the course of eight town hall meetings in Iowa last week, he was only asked one question about Trump’s comments about Curiel.
Again, a prominent Trump endorser obscures the real issue. Even if no one had asked Grassley about the comments at a public event, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair should not hesitate to condemn the assertion that a judge’s ethnic background makes him inherently biased.