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Donald Trump’s refusal to back down from his attack on a U.S. judge is drawing fire from all sides as the presumptive Republican nominee looks to unify the party ahead of the GOP convention.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Monday that Trump should apologize for insisting that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, an American citizen who was born in Indiana, should not be allowed to preside over a lawsuit involving Trump University because he’s the son of Mexican immigrants.
“Attacking judges based on their race [and/or] religion is another tactic that divides our country. More importantly, it is flat out wrong,” Kasich, Trump’s former GOP primary rival, tweeted.
“Trump should apologize to Judge Curiel [and] try to unite this country,” Kasich added.
The Hillary Clinton campaign released an ad on Monday highlighting the Republican backlash after Trump brought up Curiel’s heritage. The Web video opens with a clip from Trump’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday, when he was repeatedly asked if his comments about the judge were “racist.”
Trump wouldn’t back down and insisted that the judge should recuse himself.
“I’m building a wall,” Trump said in the interview, which aired in full Sunday. “He’s a Mexican.”
A wide range of the Republican establishment has since condemned Trump’s argument about Curiel’s supposed conflict of interest.
“I completely disagree with the thinking behind that,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday, a day after formally endorsing Trump’s candidacy.
“I couldn’t disagree more with a statement like that,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Erick Erickson, a popular conservative talk radio host and Trump critic, slammed the media for not more bluntly describing Trump’s Curiel attack line as “racist.”
“This was racism plain and simple,” Erickson wrote in a Saturday blog post. “The Party of Lincoln intends to circle the wagons around a racist. Damn them for that.”
On “Fox News Sunday,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a prominent Trump supporter, called Trump’s comments “inexcusable.”
“I think this is one of the worst mistakes Trump has made,” Gingrich said. “That judge is not a Mexican. He’s an American.”
On Monday, Trump said he was caught off guard by Gingrich’s criticism.
“I was surprised at Newt,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends.” “I thought it was inappropriate what he said.”
Meanwhile, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, a panel — including the Rev. Al Sharpton — was asked if the comments were racist.
“It’s completely racist,” co-host Joe Scarborough said. “Here you have a guy that is from Indiana — from Indiana. I think his family, if I’m not mistaken, had been in the country longer than Trump’s grandmother.”
“This is the guy the Republican Party says should be in charge of the government of the United States and the armed services, to appoint judges, Supreme Court judges,” Sharpton said. “… While the Mexican judge, who is not Mexican, he’s Indianan.”
“He’s a Hoosier, for God’s sake!” Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, interjected. “He’s a Hoosier!”
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales argued that Trump “has a right to ask if Judge Gonzalo Curiel is fair.”
“As a private citizen, Trump has a right to his opinions, regardless of whether others agree with them, or whether others consider them wise, foolish or even dangerous,” Gonzales wrote. “Trump, of course, is more than a private citizen; as the likely nominee for president of a major political party, he speaks with a voice that carries much weight and, if successful in November, will influence millions of people.
“Because of this, some commentators have condemned Trump’s suggestion that Curiel step down from the case,” he continued. “These voices have, quite rightly, emphasized the importance of upholding our independent judiciary from baseless attacks by high-level persons from other branches of government. An independent judiciary is extremely important. But that value is not the only one in play here. Equally important, if not more important from my perspective as a former judge and U.S. attorney general, is a litigant’s right to a fair trial.”
In a subsequent interview with CNN, Gonzales said he didn’t pen the op-ed in support of Trump’s comments.
“I didn’t write what I wrote in support of the notion that the judge should be recused solely on his race,” he said. “I wrote to say that Donald Trump, like every litigant in the United States, has the right to a fair trial before an impartial judge, and if there are any questions relating to that impartiality, even the appearance of impropriety is enough to cause a judge to recuse himself, then there should be a recusal, because this is not about the judge. This is about a litigate getting a fair trial before an impartial judge, and that’s the reason that I wrote the piece.”
Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democratic congressman from Texas, was slightly less sympathetic.
“Mr. Trump, you’re a racist,” Vela wrote in an open letter to the presumptive Republican nominee, “and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”