A growing chorus of prominent Republicans, including Long Island’s two GOP House members, Monday denounced Donald Trump’s repeated comments that a federal judge’s Mexican heritage should disqualify him from presiding over a lawsuit against Trump University.
No one who previously endorsed him took it back, but the furor indicated Trump’s promise to foster party cohesion is becoming more elusive.
Trump was already upset with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who on Sunday called “the inexcusable” remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel “one of the worst mistakes Trump has made.”
In a phone interview on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning, Trump said he “was surprised at Newt. I thought it was inappropriate what he said.”
As the day wore on, more Republicans piled on:
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who hasn’t endorsed Trump, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: “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.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a former rival who had expressed willingness to speak for Trump at the party’s convention, said on WFTV/Orlando: “He needs to stop saying it . . . 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,”
Rubio also said: “I ran for president and I warned this was going to happen.”
Ben Carson, an ex-rival who has become a Trump adviser, said in a statement to Politico: “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.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who is supporting Trump, told Newsday that in his view as a lawyer and lawmaker: “Donald Trump is wrong. He can’t be using race or religion or ethnicity by themselves as any basis to question or disqualify a judge. . . . First of all, it’s wrong. And as a practical matter, it would just shut down the judicial system.”
King added: “If you follow it to its conclusion, it would mean you could never have an African-American or a white judge involved in any case on racial discrimination, because either side would have a bias.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has endorsed Trump, said in a statement, “The comments shouldn’t have been made and I don’t believe it will help his cause in the case. Judge Curiel is an American who took an oath to serve and uphold the Constitution and I don’t believe the Judge’s ethnicity or race prevents him from doing his job.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told NBC News, “Of course it’s inappropriate to be attacking a federal judge’s race or ethnicity.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former presidential hopeful who has been an enthusiastic Trump backer, refused to comment, according to BuzzFeed.
A statement from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has said she would support Trump, read: “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.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), also a Trump supporter, told NBC News, “His comments are offensive and wrong, and he should retract them.”
Ex-rival Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who has so far withheld his endorsement, tweeted: “Attacking judges based on their race &/or religion is another tactic that divides our country. More importantly, it is flat out wrong.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a Trump supporter who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Fox News “people are disturbed that you would want to try to dismiss a judge based on his ethnicity.”
Anti-Trump Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) tweeted: “Saying someone can’t do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of ‘racism.’ ”
On Friday and Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sharply criticized Trump’s comments on Curiel.
One notable New York Republican came to Trump’s defense Monday. Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino rejected a characterization of Trump’s comments as racist.
“This is incredible that you want to pull this word out and use it because it always pushes back on the white guy. That’s not fair,” he said on CNN.
“Donald Trump might have some anxiety about this particular judge because he lives in the same real world that I do where this type of thing does go on, where the ethnicity means something, OK,” Paladino said.
With Tom Brune