Trump Time Capsule #11: Mexican Heritage

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
House Speaker Paul Ryan after his meeting with Donald Trump last month, when Ryan was still saying he was undecided about supporting Trump. (Jim Bourg / Reuters)

This is all over the news, so I’ll just note its existence for the record.

Trump Time Capsule #11: June 2, 2016. “Mexican heritage.”

On the very day that House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had denounced candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants, announced his support for Trump as presumptive nominee, Trump himself escalated his criticism of the federal judge hearing the fraud case against Trump University. In an interview with Brent Kendall of the WSJ, Trump said that judge Gonzalo Curiel should be removed from the case because of his ethnicity:

In an interview, Mr. Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation given that he was “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Mr. Trump said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, was relevant because of his campaign stance against illegal immigration and his pledge to seal the southern U.S. border. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said.

I note this mainly for the historical record of what was known about Trump as the party prepared to accept him, but let me underscore these points:

  • This is the man Paul Ryan has decided to get behind, on the very day Ryan got behind him.
  • Even before Trump purified his objection so that it was about the judge’s ethnicity, Jeffrey Toobin had a powerful item on the New Yorker’s site on why Trump’s previous comments were so odious and outside-normal-bounds.
  • Thanks to The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum for pointing me toward the ringing decision by federal judge Leon Higginbotham on why his own racial identity, as an African-American, and his involvement in civil-rights causes should not automatically disqualify him from hearing discrimination cases. (David Graham has an Atlantic item about it here.) That ruling was followed by many others, and is in direct opposition to Trump’s claim, as is the American idea itself.
  • Part of what is so horrible about Trump’s relentless insults to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans is the recognition that he has sort of gotten away with it. Gotten away? Here’s what I mean: I think if he had been on the verge of saying that a Jewish judge should be disqualified because he was Jewish, a Catholic because she was Catholic, a black because he was black, or a woman because she was a woman, even Trump would have hesitated and been afraid of the backlash.

No one is going to change Trump’s mind at this point, nor peel off his most committed supporters. But the “responsible” Republicans lining up behind Trump, from Mitch McConnell to Marco Rubio to Jon Huntsman to Ryan himself, should be called out and asked: You’re supporting this? People are going to be remembered, in the long run, for how they lined up on Trump 2016. You’re sure about this?