Despite some notable hold-outs and fantastical plots that never materialized, the Republican Party was coalescing around Donald Trump. Polling showed rank-and-file GOP voters rapidly reconciling themselves to Trump as the only viable alternative to Hillary Clinton, former foes were lining up to embrace him, and even recalcitrant critics were finally coming around. And then Trump decided to explicitly race-bait a judge in the fraud trial focused on his failed "university," which allegedly bilked tens of thousands of dollars out of poor and elderly Americans who couldn't afford it, many of whom say they received next to nothing in return. Trump had been casually and gratuitously mentioning US federal judge Gonzalo Curiel's ethnic background for months, calling him "Mexican" and "Spanish" in reference to the case. But he'd always quickly follow up with a remark like, "and that's fine," thus providing his defenders with the thin reed they could point to as proof that he wasn't playing racial politics.
That pretense has been abandoned in recent days, after Judge Curiel ordered the release of documents that spelled out the methods Trump University staffers were taught to employ in order to pressure clients to spend more and more money they didn't have on real estate courses. An angry and embarrassed Trump declared that Curiel, as a "Mexican" (he's not; he's an American born in Indiana), should be taken off the case because his ethnic background alone represented an "inherent conflict of interest." Because "we're building a wall." And thus, as 'Crooked Hillary' clinches her party's nomination, the center-right is in open warfare. Even as he appeared to soften his own rhetoric last night, Trump has reportedly ordered his campaign surrogates to triple down on anti-Curiel attacks, including accusing journalists of racism for asking questions about the racial firestorm he stoked and escalated. The party, meanwhile, has unified in near-lockstep condemnation of their nominee's demagoguery -- including some of Trump's most reliable apologists. The opprobrium is even stronger in other quarters:
Public Service Announcement:— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 6, 2016
Saying someone can't do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of "racism."
"I think it's wrong. [Trump] needs to stop saying it. That man [Judge Curiel] is an American...I warned this was going to happen. I consistently said, you know, if he became the nominee, we would face these sorts of difficult choices we now have."
Rubio has also clarified that while he's willing to speak at the Republican National Convention if invited, he won't do so on behalf of Trump's agenda. And for that reason, he says, he suspects that invitation might never arrive. He may be right. And then there's this, via the conservative, previously Trump-friendly son of America's 40th president, who remains beloved and lionized by the Right:
Some have suggested that Trump deliberately bashed Curiel using racial terms as a means of shifting focus off of the damaging facts of the Trump University suit. If that's the case -- and I'm skeptical -- his tactical distraction has backfired. Sure, people aren't focused as intensely on the fraud case; instead, they're watching virtually Trump's entire party lining up against him, with Democrats simultaneously teeing off from the left. Will he continue this war against even his own allies, as he indicated in the leaked conference call, or is he planning a climb-down? Or perhaps he's preparing a new shiny object to capture the media's attention. I'll leave you with some illuminating snark from Mary Katharine Ham, and an anecdote about Ted Cruz -- who has kept almost totally silent about the presidential race since exiting it, but who has also denounced Trump's race-baiting:
By Trump's standards, shall I start referring to him incessantly as German GOP candidate Donald Trump? Totally accurate, right?— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) June 6, 2016
Ted Cruz just stared blankly at us, as elevator doors slowly closed us out, when someone asked if he'll ever endorse Trump.— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) June 6, 2016
Oh, and can you imagine the field day conservatives would have with this $25,000 coincidence if Hillary were the apparently influence-peddling beneficiary of this fragrant transaction? Just kidding, Hillary's price points are much higher. But this looks really bad:
Florida's attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates. The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi's spokesman to The Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump's $25,000 donation to Bondi. The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi's re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi's office publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University's activities, according to a 2013 report in the Orlando Sentinel. After the check came in, Bondi's office nixed suing Trump, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.
We know Trump likes to pay politicians to do his bidding; he's bragged about it in presidential debates. But is it time to attach the "Crooked" Pam sobriquet to Ms. Bondi -- who was, by the way, a relatively early Trump endorser?