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Trump's first attack on Curiel came in late February just after Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney and others started calling attention to claims of fraud against "Trump University," what I called at the time a "clownishly crooked scam that exploited people who didn't have a lot of money but bet it all on Trump's razzmatazz." In that now notorious February 25th debate where Rubio went all in with often antic attacks on Trump, the one that really hit home was the one on what Rubio called Trump's 'fake school'.
Two days later at a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas, Trump sought to minimize the on-going fraud suits as the product of a personal vendetta by Judge Curiel who Trump suggested had a "tremendous hostility" toward him because he was "Spanish". (There is an entirely separate state suit in New York State.)
The judge should have thrown the case out on summary judgment. But because it was me and because there’s a hostility toward me by the judge, tremendous hostility, beyond belief––I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine, he’s Hispanic, which is fine, and we haven’t asked for a recusal, which we may do, but we have a judge who’s very hostile.
The next day on Fox News Sunday, Trump told Chris Wallace ...
I think the judge has been extremely hostile to me. I think it has to do with the fact I'm very, very strong on the border, and he happens to be extremely hostile to me. We have a very hostile judge. He is Hispanic, and he is very hostile to me.
Then on Friday Trump devoted roughly twelve minutes of a campaign speech in San Diego to an even more barbed racist tirade against Curiel.
"Here's what happens. We're in front of a very hostile judge. The Judge was appointed by Barack Obama ... Frankly he should recuse himself ... This should have been dismissed on summary judgment easily. Everybody says it, but I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel ... The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great, I think that’s fine ... You know what? I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs, OK? ... I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK?"
You can see the full portion of the speech about Curiel here.
Federal District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel
It is unprecedented for a presidential candidate to personally attack and even threaten a federal judge. (To be fair, I'm not sure there's been a nominee being sued for fraud during the presidential campaign.) But here we have Trump making an openly racist argument against a federal judge, arguing that Curiel is pursuing a vendetta against him because Trump is, he says, "I'm very, very strong on the border."
Federal District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel
Today while taking questions after announcing belated donations to veterans groups, CNN's Jim Acosta pressed Trump on his criticisms of Judge Curiel. Toward the end of the exchange, in which Trump repeated his claims about bias and unfairness, Acosta asked Trump: "Why mention that the judge is Mexican?" Trump answered: "Because I'm a man of principle. Most of the people who took those courses have letters saying they thought it was great, essentially."
In other words, Trump didn't answer the question and Acosta seemed not to have a chance to follow up or chose not to.
As we've noted, quite apart from the policies he's embraced, Trump has shown himself over the course of the campaign to be an emotionally needy, pathological liar. Here we see that he also not only happily launches defamatory racist attacks on a federal judge but impugns the patriotism of an entire ethnic community in the United States.
As I write, the issue is being discussed on the cable nets in terms of why Trump thinks it's a good idea to attack a judge hearing his case, whether there's any evidence that Curiel is "biased" or "unfair." (It's worth noting that Curiel did Trump the inestimably valuable favor of acceding to his lawyers' request to push the trial back until after the November election - this despite the fact that 'elder abuse' infractions put a premium on conducting an expeditious trial.) But handicapping the wisdom of Trump's attack or analyzing them in substantive terms is an immense dereliction of journalistic duty.
The press routinely goes into paroxysms - often rightly so - about innuendos or phrasings that might in some way be racist or suggest racial animus. Here we have it in the open, repeated and showing itself as basically Trump's first line of attack when he is in anyway threatened. That's infinitely more dangerous than most things that routinely focus all the media's attention. Any reporter who gets a chance to ask Trump to justify his actions and doesn't is not doing his or her job. Few cases show more vividly how dangerous a person Trump is.