Trump’s campaign downplayed the impact of his assertion that the judge’s Mexican heritage could preclude him from delivering fair rulings in the Trump University case.
Another campaign adviser laughed when asked if Trump officials can talk to the candidate about watching what he says.
, who led the Justice Department under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Saturday that Curiel’s Mexican heritage shouldn’t be enough to disqualify him from overseeing the case. But, Gonzales said, Trump is entitled to a fair trial, and the appearance of impropriety could be enough for him to reasonably request that Curiel recuse himself.
Trump thanked Gonzales for his support.
Inside the Republican Party, campaigns and donor circles, fear over the damage Trump’s remarks could do to the party’s relationship with Latino voters was palpable.
“Awful,” a top Republican official said of Trump’s attack on the judge. “We are all beside ourselves.”
The official went on to say that “you have to feel for Paul Ryan,” who had just announced his support for Trump.
Depth of concerns
In a series of interviews with donors, fundraisers and congressional officials, the depth of the concerns about what Trump’s latest attacks underscore become clear.
“Honestly? My worst fear. Call me stupid — I was one of the guys who figured he’d do the whole pivot thing,” said one donor, referring to an often-used strategy of moving more to the middle after securing the nomination.
The donor, who had been active for several candidates during the primary, said he was “ready to get in line” once Trump signed the joint-fundraising agreement last month with the RNC. The bold names associated with the joint agreement — people like businessman Woody Johnson — were enough of a sign, the donor said.
Now? “Not so much.”
But it may be bigger than that, according to several GOP officials. Republicans are defending 24 seats in the Senate while holding a slim four-seat majority. While the House majority is significantly more robust — 58 seats — there are members in that chamber who saw their seats move into riskier positions the day Trump locked up the nomination.
The solution — one that top GOP officials on Capitol Hill have been repeating in the weeks since — has been to make sure top donors dump cash into the down ballot races.
Up to this point, they’ve done just that. One fundraiser with ties to one of the two primary GOP congressional super PACs said donors have been “burning up the phone lines” trying to figure out how to help protect GOP majorities in Congress.
The primary Senate GOP super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, had more than $16.3 million on hand at the end of April, the last time numbers were reported with the FEC. The group raised more than $4 million in March and April alone — a number that, according to the fundraiser, will increase “significantly” in the months ahead.
The top House super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, nearly doubled its 2015 fundraising in the first quarter of 2016 alone.
“The concern is — do we get to the point that all the money in the world doesn’t matter?” asked another donor, who said his whole goal this cycle was to protect House and Senate candidates. “We’re obviously not there right now, but stupid s— like this really makes you wonder.”
Democrats are certainly trying to make each Trump comment sting. The party’s House and Senate campaign committees are firing out a steady clip of press releases attempting to tie each vulnerable candidate to Trump. Democrats make clear those comments will be featured heavily in the fall in attack ads.
Perhaps more noticeably, over the weekend, talks between top GOP figures about the future of the party have become more urgent. Several Republican officials pointed to McConnell’s comments to Jake Tapper on CNN last week, where he first voiced concern about Trump’s effect on Latino voters mirroring that of Goldwater’s effect on black voters.
Yet those same officials watched McConnell go to great lengths not to say that Trump’s attacks on the judge in the Trump University case were racism.
“That was just painful,” said one Republican official who served in George W. Bush’s administration. The official added that the reality is McConnell — and Ryan and every Republican in a leadership position or facing an election challenge — “will be stuck dealing with the latest Trumpism every interview of every day, of every month until November.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated which committee Sen. Bob Corker is the chairman of. It is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.