WASHINGTON U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced as textbook racism Donald Trump's condemnation of a Mexican-American judge, slamming him as Republican Party leaders sought to distance themselves from their presidential nominee on Tuesday.
Trump's repeated insistence that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel is biased in a case involving him because he was born to Mexican parents threatened to disrupt Republicans' already difficult efforts to unite behind the candidate.
Ryan's emphatic rejection showed anxiety among party leaders about their ability to hang on to control of the U.S. Congress in the Nov. 8 election, if voters trounce Trump and also punish Republicans lower down on the ticket.
The issue also plunged the Trump campaign into disarray as his core supporters struggled to explain his remarks amid appeals from party leaders for Trump to apologise and move on.
Ryan, the top elected U.S. Republican, expressed misgivings last month about Trump after the real estate developer became the party's presumptive presidential nominee, but finally gave his endorsement last week.
Ryan was swarmed with reporters' questions on Tuesday about whether he had any remorse over the endorsement. Trump spent most of the past week denouncing Judge Curiel for keeping alive a lawsuit over Trump's defunct real estate training school. Trump said the judge was biased because of his heritage.
"I regret those comments that he made. Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed," Ryan told reporters.
However, Ryan said he still supported Trump, adding a Trump presidency would be preferable to a White House occupied by Democrat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
Ryan's counterpart in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said Trump should stop attacking minority groups.
"My advice to our nominee is to start talking about the issues that the American people care about, and to start doing it now," the Senate Republican leader told reporters.
"In addition to that, it's time to quit attacking various people that you competed with or various minority groups in the country and get on message."
U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is on Trump's short list of vice presidential candidates, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that Trump's campaign has reached "an inflection point" and he needed to move past the controversy.
"He has within his fingertips the opportunity to pivot, to move to the general election," he said.
During the Republican primary campaigns, in which Trump vanquished 16 opponents with a stream of insults to rivals and inflammatory comments about Muslims, immigrants and women, establishment Republicans squirmed over the prospect of the former reality television host becoming their standard bearer.
But many, seeing no other alternative, have since reconciled themselves to a Trump run for the White House.
Now, with Trump ignoring calls for a more policy-oriented campaign, McConnell and other high-profile Republicans are again trying to rein him in.
"We are trying to get in line, but he keeps taking the subject away from unifying the party," McConnell told Fox Business Network.
Trump's continuing practice of making explosive remarks about racial, religious and gender issues is making Republicans, including those who have embraced him, uncomfortable.
“Trump just needs to throw everybody a lifeline here and back off what he said," Republican strategist Ryan Williams said. "He’s put his supporters in a very unfair position because they can’t defend what he said but they don’t want to undermine his candidacy."
Williams noted that Trump had been able to put behind him dust-ups during the early stages of the Republican primary contest, such as when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and urged a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
Now was different, Williams said. "He’s not been able to put this behind him. The traditional Trump strategy of simply doubling down and punching his way through a controversy doesn’t seem to be working this time around."
And with greater scrutiny of Trump now that he is set to formally win the Republican presidential nomination at the party's July convention in Cleveland, there are concerns about the party's continued hold on the House and Senate.
"Trump's continuing missteps, punctuated by his outrageous and indefensible comments about Judge Curiel, make that goal much more difficult to achieve," said Lanhee Chen, a senior adviser to former presidential candidate Marco Rubio and who is a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.
One prominent Republican rushed to Trump's defence on Tuesday.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Trump’s former rival in the Republican race, said, ”Donald Trump is not a racist. The allegations that he is are absolutely contrary to every experience that I've had with him over the last 14 years.”
Christie has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate with Trump.
Other Republicans heaped criticism on Trump.
In a New York Times interview, Senator Lindsey Graham, also a former presidential candidate, said Trump's remarks about Mexican-American and Muslim judges were "the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy.”
Graham added, “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it,” in abandoning their support for Trump.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2016 03:01:55 IST