New York Times
By Patrick Healy, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin
June 6, 2016
Democratic leaders nationwide sought to exact a political price from Republican officials and candidates on Monday for continuing to support Donald J. Trump after his explosive remarks challenging the objectivity of judges with Mexican or Muslim backgrounds.
In an unusually coordinated series of attacks leveled from congressional offices and the Senate floor, in state capitols and sidewalk protests, Democrats excoriated Mr. Trump as racist and demanded that Republicans either stand behind his comments or condemn him and even rescind their endorsements of his candidacy.
Democrats received unexpected ammunition from Mr. Trump himself, who, in an extraordinary conference call with allies on Monday, urged them to defend his criticisms of a federal judge’s Mexican heritage — and then rebuked his campaign staff for having suggested otherwise.
Mr. Trump’s doggedness, and his chastisement of his own aides, contributed to a sense of powerlessness among Republicans who said they increasingly saw no way to influence Mr. Trump’s behavior or to convince him that his actions could hurt the party in competitive House, Senate and governor’s races.
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has held discussions with Mr. Trump about his attacks on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of Federal District Court, who is overseeing a suit against the now-shuttered Trump University, according to a Republican briefed on the talks.
But Mr. Priebus has had similar conversations over many months with Mr. Trump, to little avail. And other senior Republicans said there was confusion about whether it was worth approaching any of Mr. Trump’s aides about doing an intervention with him.
Republican candidates in tough races this fall were left to fend for themselves. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called on Mr. Trump to retract his comments about Judge Curiel, calling them “offensive and wrong.”
Other candidates lay low. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former rival of Mr. Trump’s, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine both criticized Mr. Trump, yet neither they nor Ms. Ayotte indicated that they would reject his candidacy.
“I continue to hope that Mr. Trump will rethink his position and take back those words and show respect for the separation of powers doctrine that is enshrined in our Constitution,” Ms. Collins said in an interview. “I continue to believe in redemption.”
No prominent elected Republican came to Mr. Trump’s defense unreservedly. And others found themselves wondering aloud what it would take — what Mr. Trump would have to say or do — for Republicans who have endorsed him to start jumping ship.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another former primary rival of Mr. Trump’s, urged Republicans who have backed Mr. Trump to rescind their endorsements, citing the remarks about Judge Curiel and Mr. Trump’s expression of doubt on Sunday that a Muslim judge could remain neutral in the same lawsuit, given Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim noncitizens entering the country.
“This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy,” Mr. Graham said. “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” he added. “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”
Republican hopes that Mr. Trump would tone down his language and heed advice were also undercut after he laced into his own campaign team during a strategy discussion with political surrogates.
On the conference call, reported first by the Bloomberg News website and later confirmed by two participants, Mr. Trump argued that talking points sent by his campaign to his allies, directing them not to discuss the Trump University case, were ill advised.
“Take that order and throw it the hell out,” Mr. Trump said.
He then went further in excoriating his campaign staff: “Are there any other stupid letters that were sent to you folks?” Mr. Trump said, according to the Bloomberg News report. “That’s one of the reasons I want to have this call, because you guys are getting sometimes stupid information from people that aren’t so smart.”
No other modern presidential campaign has unfolded like this, and gleeful Democrats have concluded that one of their best strategies for the general election is to hold Republicans accountable for each new Trump bombshell.
In Indiana, state Democratic Party officials held a news conference on Monday to assail Mr. Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel, who was born in the state and graduated from Indiana University’s law school. But the party’s chairman, John Zody, spent even more time criticizing Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican seeking re-election this year, and Republican House and Senate candidates in Indiana for being “completely silent on the fact that Donald Trump is questioning the integrity of a Hoosier.” Only a few Republican officials in the state have criticized Mr. Trump’s comments as inappropriate.
Outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, meanwhile, Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the New York City Council, and Councilman Carlos Menchaca told reporters that Mr. Trump’s comments about the judge were racist and xenophobic and reflected disrespect for the judiciary system.
“He’s quite literally saying Judge Curiel can’t do his job because of his ethnicity. That is the definition of racism,” said Ms. Mark-Viverito, who is Puerto Rican. “It’s gross, it’s vile, and it is not normal behavior for anyone, let alone someone running to be the president of the United States.”
The Democratic offensive was more systematic and effective than earlier, scattershot attempts to link Republicans to Mr. Trump’s incendiary language and to his refusal to release his tax returns, among other actions.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign was quick to act, putting out a video Monday morning that drew attention to Mr. Trump’s remarks and to some critical responses to him by other Republicans.
Representative Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, accused Senator Mark Kirk, the Republican she is challenging, of being “complicit” in Mr. Trump’s campaign of “hate and division” and of dodging Mr. Trump’s comments on Judge Curiel; Mr. Kirk did not reply to requests for comment. Democrats in Nevada also held a news conference to draw attention to Mr. Trump’s remarks, while others publicized them to reporters in Ohio and Florida.
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats held a private conference call to discuss how to apply pressure on the Republican leadership.
“Trump’s incendiary comments about Judge Curiel were the final straw,” said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York. He added, referring to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, “We’re not going to let Speaker Ryan and House Republicans spend every day criticizing Trump with one hand and endorsing him with the other.”
Texas Democrats are expected to try to hammer Mr. Trump when he visits their state in a week. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is preparing material to guide its candidates in attacking their opponents over Mr. Trump’s positions.
It remains very unlikely that ambitious Republicans and those on the ballot this year will publicly break with Mr. Trump until it becomes politically advantageous for them. At the moment, Mr. Trump enjoys wide support from the sort of rank-and-file Republican voters whom elected officials are loath to antagonize.
Mr. Rubio, who has said he would speak at the Republican convention and personally apologized to Mr. Trump for making jokes about the size of his anatomy during the primary, confirmed in a Florida television interview that he would still support Mr. Trump.
Still, Mr. Trump expressed displeasure at criticism from his allies. In a Monday morning interview on Fox News, he faulted former Speaker Newt Gingrich for saying the Curiel attacks were “inexcusable.”
“I was surprised at Newt — I thought it was inappropriate what he said,” Mr. Trump said.
The unified Democratic attack on Mr. Trump came on the final day of campaigning before primaries in California, New Jersey and several other states.
In California, Mrs. Clinton blasted Mr. Trump as running a “campaign of insults,” and said: “I’m waiting for him to say — because of all the bigoted things he has said about women — that a woman judge couldn’t preside.” Senator Bernie Sanders, also in California, insisted that he was still the Democrats’ best hope of defeating Mr. Trump.
For other Democrats, though, Mr. Trump’s words were buoying hopes of a November resurgence.
In a speech on the Senate floor as Congress returned from a break, the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, sought to yoke Mr. Trump to his counterpart, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — and to every Republican running this fall. Mr. Reid pointed out that Mr. McConnell, interviewed on NBC on Sunday, had “repeatedly refused to say Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel’s ethnicity are racist.”
“This is precisely the type of failure that gave rise to Donald Trump in the first place,” Mr. Reid said. “That’s because the hate emanating from Trump’s mouth reflects the Republican Party’s agenda here in the United States Senate for the past seven and a half years.”
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