I am sorry, but there is nothing else to call this. The Wall Street Journal ($) has just released an interview with Donald Trump in which Trump explains his repeated and continued attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the judge assigned to the Trump University case. Curiel’s decision to release records related to the case in response to a public interest request filed by the Washington Post has clearly infuriated Trump and imperiled his general election campaign.
In a rambling tirade against the judge, delivered earlier this week in his back yard of San Diego, Trump said, among other things, that Curiel was “a Mexican, we think.” (Curiel, as it happens, is from the Chicago area, but his parents are of Mexican heritage.) The WSJ finally got around to asking Trump the question that should have been asked from the first moment he mentioned the judge’s ethnicity, which was actually a couple months ago when Curiel refused to dismiss the case on summary judgment. That question, of course, is “Why would you bring up the judge’s ethnicity at all?”
Trump’s answer was, shall we say, revealing:
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.
Think about what Trump is saying for a minute. Forget that Trump himself repeatedly bragged on the primary campaign trail that he would win the Hispanic vote and focus on what he is now saying: he is saying that no Hispanic person on earth can be trusted to give him a fair hearing. He is saying that no one – even a Mexican born in America – can be trusted rule impartially in accordance with the law simply because of Trump’s stance on whether there ought to be a wall on the Southern border.
Keep in mind, Curiel himself is not an illegal immigrant, or even an immigrant. I have no idea whether his parents were even immigrants or illegal immigrants. They are of Mexican heritage, therefore he cannot be trusted to pass judgment on Trump, who supports a wall on the Mexican border.
Look, there’s no other way to say this: that’s just overt racism. Saying that this guy has a “conflict of interest” against Trump solely based on his Mexican heritage is also an accidental admission on Trump’s part that he is opposed to Mexicans.
Boy. I guess these days are long gone, huh?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
“I love Hispanics!” is a weird thing to say about a group of people who you say are inherently untrustworthy when it comes to anything they say about you, Mr. Trump.
He’s not dog whistling it any more. He’s not doing the wink-and-nod thing. He’s flat out saying: you cannot trust anything this guy says about me because he’s a Mexican. If that isn’t racism, I don’t know what is.
“Sure,” Trump’s minions will say. “But he also said that the guy went to law school with the plaintiffs’ lawyer.” Yep, he did. And while that’s a stupid point*, it’s a non-racist one. But he also defended his comments about Judge Curiel’s heritage as being independently meritorious. The fact that he had other attacks against him does not change or diminish the fact that he also made an overtly racist attack against him.
Every day, Trump makes it easier to remember that there is literally no reason for anyone to ever vote for him other than not being Hillary Clinton. And every day, he makes it easier to question whether that’s enough.
*In a city like San Diego, the legal community is doubtless small and populated probably largely with graduates from the same handful of law schools. I practiced law here in Nashville for several years – I ran into people who went to law school with me at Vanderbilt on virtually every case I worked. By the time my senior partners got to be the age that they were, they were arguing in front of judges they went to law school with (often at Vanderbilt but certainly also at Duke or wherever) all the time. The idea that any judge would or should recuse himself from a case because he went to law school with someone who’s an attorney on one of the cases else is patently absurd.