Donald Trump’s latest attacks against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel have left his party grappling with buyer’s remorse with five agonizing months left until the November election.
Just weeks after clinching the nomination, Trump has doubled down on his divisive rhetoric, most recently ignoring calls from GOP leaders to back off of his racially-charged comments about Curiel’s “Mexican” heritage and work to unite the party.
Republican lawmakers seem to be caught in an awkward dance– clinging to their endorsements on one hand all the while criticizing their nominee. Just last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) finally lent his support to Trump. By Tuesday he was at a podium condemning him.
“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan said at a news conference in Southeast D.C. “I’m not going to defend these kinds of comments because they’re indefensible.”
Trump’s supporters, however, have stopped short of withdrawing their support for their nominee. They sharply jab Trump, but resist abandoning him. Whether they persist in doing that delicate dance until November is an open question.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) who is running for re-election told Politico that he didn’t agree with Trump’s comments, but he that wouldn’t stop him from endorsing him.
“If they were inconsistent with things we’ve seen up to this point in the election, I would tell you it might. But I think we’re all sort of used to remarks being made that we don’t expect,” Politico reported Burr said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who is also running for re-election, re-upped her own opaque position on Trump.
“I felt that his comments were wrong and offensive, and I’ve urged him to retract them,” Ayotte said, according to Politico, before adding “I’m running my race and focusing on the people of New Hampshire. I’ve said he’s our nominee; I plan to vote for him, but I’m not endorsing.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) reiterated that he planned to run “a very independent campaign,” according to the Associated Press.
Beyond the Hill, Trump’s comments against Curiel have struck a party-wide nerve. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Curiel to a state court judgeship, tweeted Monday: “Judge Curiel is an American hero who stood up to the Mexican cartels. I was proud to appoint him when I was Gov.”
Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator who has been outspoken against Trump, penned a column over the weekend blasting his party for not taking more action.
“Damn the GOP for its unwillingness to speak up on this,” Erickson wrote. “The leaders of the party, confronted by Todd Akin, abandoned ship for his stupid statements on rape and abortion. But the Party of Lincoln intends to circle the wagons around a racist. Damn them for that.”
Even Trump’s most fervent supporters seem tired of his attacks on a federal judge. In an interview with CNN, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a Trump surrogate, warned it was “time to just let go of this” and “move on.”
And, just as Republican lawmakers are struggling to contend with Trump’s unorthodox campaign, there is a growing schism within the campaign itself. Bloomberg reported Monday that in a conference call with his surrogates Trump bulldozed over his campaign advisers’ directive that surrogates stop talking about Judge Curiel.
According to Bloomberg,Trump instructed his surrogates to “take that order and throw it the hell out.”
Trump’s comment was just the latest indication for Republican leaders that their hopes to soften and redefine their nominee have been dashed. Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer offered Trump a stark admonishment.
“You all better get on the page,” she warned Trump about his campaign’s mixed messages.
Trump’s intensified attacks and his party’s growing unease come just as Clinton prepares to clinch the Democratic nomination and pivot to the general election. In a stirring foreign policy speech last week, Clinton revealed she is geared up and ready to let Trump’s own words sink him.
Some Republicans are warning their colleagues that it is not too late to backtrack.
In a New York Times story Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) fired off a warning for his fellow Republicans who’d decided to endorse Trump up to this point.
“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Graham said according to the New York Times. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it. … There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”