Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has thus far refrained from labelling remarks made by Donald Trump as “racist” that referred to federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is currently dealing with a case concerning Trump University. Trump had questioned whether the jurist had a “conflict of interest” in the case and pointed out not only his Mexican ancestry but also his membership in an ethnic law association.
In contrast, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) not only said Trump’s remarks were “racist,” but also “indefensible.” Moreover, Ryan said it met the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”
According to The Hill, an aide to a Republican senator said that Ryan’s remark sets up journalists to ask Republicans whether they agree with the Speaker about Trump. Also, the website cited a Republican senator as saying that “nobody was happy with Paul,” while another wished that the Speaker had not given Democrats fodder to criticize Republicans. As for Ryan, a spokesperson said that he answered honestly and will always speak out when warranted.
In the aftermath, the Democratic-aligned American Bridge communications group circulated a press release targeting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), asking “Ryan called Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel the ‘textbook definition of racism.’ Will Johnson join Ryan in calling out Trump’s racism?” Johnson, like senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, is among the most endangered Republicans in the Senate. American Bridge sent out press releases of a similar nature about Kirk and Ayotte, as well as senators Roy Blunt (MO), John McCain (AZ), Rob Portman (OH and Pat Toomey (PA).
In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee later sent out an email to the media that highlighted a Tampa Bay Times article citing Republican senatorial candidates who declined to go as far as did Ryan. The email said “Even though high-ranking Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan have condemned Donald Trump’s comments on the Trump University Judge as racist, Florida Senate candidates Carlos Beruff, Ron DeSantis and Carlos Lopez-Cantera avoided going that far.”
McConnell was asked several times on June 5 on “Meet the Press” to say whether or not Trump’s remarks were racist. He refused to use the term but said, “I couldn’t disagree more with a statement like that.” He dodged the question later on in the week when peppered with questions by the press. “I was asked over the course of the last week on numerous occasions to express myself on various utterances of our nominee. And I have done that. And unless there was some new comment today, I don't have anything to add,” McConnell said.
“I’m not going to critique the Speaker. I can speak for myself and I have spoken for myself,” he said. “I have listed all of last week every occasion upon which I differed with Donald Trump, particularly attacking people on the basis of their ethnicity — totally inappropriate.”
While McConnell has been more diplomatic about Trump, a Bloomberg News podcast cast doubt on the Majority Leader’s endorsement of the New Yorker. In the interview, McConnell claimed that Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues” and does not have the required “seriousness of purpose” for occupying the White House.
“He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues,” McConnell said. “You see that in the debates in which he’s participated. It’s why I have argued to him publicly and privately that he ought to use a script more often — there is nothing wrong with having prepared texts.”…
“For all of his obvious shortcomings, Donald Trump is certainly a different direction, and I think if he is in the White House he’ll have to respond to the right-of-center world which elected him, and the things that we believe in. So I’m comfortable supporting him,” McConnell said.
Regarding Trump’s remarks about Republicans and ethnicities, McConnell said “I object to a whole series of things that he’s said — vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop. Both the shots at people he defeated in the primary and these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country.”…
“I think he’d have a much better chance of winning if he would quit making so many unfortunate public utterances and stick to the script,” he said, in reference to a conversation he had with Trump at the National Rifle Association convention.
“I said, ‘Hey Donald, you got a script?’ and he pulled it out of his pocket. He said, ‘You know I hate scripts, they’re so boring.’ And I said, ‘Put me down in favor of boring. You’ve demonstrated that you have a lot of Twitter followers and you’re good at turning on a big audience. Now you need to demonstrate you have the seriousness of purpose that is required to be president of the United States, and most candidates on frequent occasions use a script.’ So we’ll see whether that’s something he’s capable of doing.”
In yet another example of intra-party disarray, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told the New Yorker this week that she may support Hillary Clinton rather than Trump this fall. In an interview with the magazine, Collins said that Trump's remarks about Judge Curiel were “an order of magnitude more serious” than anything he had said until then. She also referred to what she said are "his poorly-thought-out policy plan about banning Muslims from entering this country.” Collins said that she is undecided about this fall and that it is an "unprecedented political decision. She is not adverse to supporting Clinton, saying they cooperated while the two were together in the Senate and later when Clinton served as Secretary of State.” Collins added, “But I do not anticipate voting for her this fall. I’m not going to say never, because this has been such an unpredictable situation, to say the least.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is facing serious competition from U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) for his seat, has already disavowed his earlier endorsement of Trump. So far, his defection has not appeared to have improved his chances of remaining in the Senate.