Joining a growing group of presidential candidates for president, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called out Donald Trump for incendiary statements about immigrants and Mexicans he made and has repeated ever since his announcement for the GOP nomination in June.
Graham called the real estate mogul and television personality a "wrecking ball" for the Republican Party, one who threatens its future with Hispanic voters. For that reason, Graham is calling on the party to push back.
Graham was critical of Trump's recent derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants and calls the issue a "defining moment" for Republicans. He said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that if the GOP doesn't reject Trump's views, "we will have lost our way."
"I'm very worried about the Republican Party," Graham said. "I don't think this is the way to win the Latino vote."
Graham said Trump's comments are "offensive at every level ... I think he's a wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party with the Hispanic community and we need to push back."
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Saturday night, campaigning in the west, Trump repeated his charge that Mexico was sending violent offenders to the U.S. to harm Americans, and that U.S. officials were being "dumb" in dealing with immigrants in the country illegally. "These people wreak havoc on our population," he told a few thousand people attending the Libertarian gathering FreedomFest in Las Vegas.
Trump's words are worrisome to Republicans, who fear the outspoken businessman is hurting the party's standing with the nation's surging Latino population before voting begins in the 2016 presidential primaries.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio – as well as Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton – have all spoken out against Trump's comments. Even Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus reportedly reached out to the mogul to try to get him to tone down his rhetoric.
Rubio, who declined to address Trump's comments directly for more than two weeks, issued a statement in early July, reading, "Trump's comments are not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive," said Rubio, a Cuban-American. "Our next president needs to be someone who brings Americans together — not someone who continues to divide."
Only Sen. Ted Cruz has spoken out in support of Trump's statements, if not the force with which they've been expressed. Most other Republican contenders have remained silent on the topic.
Trump's reply to Rubio and other of his rivals has been to call them "weak" on immigration.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.