Trump on defensive as media paint judge controversy as Republican problem

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This is what it looks like when the whole world is against you.

The media are denouncing Donald Trump. The Democrats are denouncing Donald Trump. Other Republicans are denouncing Donald Trump—in fact, not a single prominent member of the GOP is defending him.

And it all stems from a self-inflicted wound.

When the House speaker, Paul Ryan, who just reluctantly endorsed Trump, describes Trump’s remarks about a judge of Mexican heritage as “a textbook racist comment” that is “indefensible,” you’ve got a problem.

Trump tried to subtly tone things down when Bill O’Reilly asked him about the firestorm. Trump had doubled and tripled down in a series of interviews—with the Wall Street Journal, CNN and CBS—saying that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not be fair to him in the Trump University suit because of his Mexican heritage. Curiel was born in Indiana.

On the Factor, without retracting his previous comments, Trump said: “I don’t care if the judge is Mexican or not.”

He also tried to shift the spotlight to the press: “The question was asked to me.” Trump said he would rather be talking about other issues, “but every time I go onto a show, all they want to do is talk about Trump University…Frankly, I don’t even like wasting my time talking about this lawsuit.”

But any candidate can brush off questions he doesn’t want to deal with, as Trump sometimes does. It’s harder when you’ve made an ethnic-based criticism against a sitting federal judge, that journalists naturally want to ask about.

Trump tried again yesterday with a campaign statement: "It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage...I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial."

But the most important sentence may have been this one: "I do not intend to comment on this matter any further."

During the primaries, there was a similar uproar over Trump’s proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States, with widespread media and political condemnation. But it turned out that most Republican primary voters agreed with him. Now, however, Trump has to deal with a much broader electorate.

More important, the Muslim proposal was connected to national security. Whether you found the plan offensive or not, Trump could always pivot to the argument that we had to get the system under control to ensure that Islamic terrorists didn’t slip through and kill innocent people.

But the only larger issue in the Curiel case involves one of Trump’s business ventures. The allegations have been kicking around, and journalists have been writing about them, for years. So Trump has allowed his campaign to be diverted over a private grievance at a time when he is trying to unite the GOP against Hillary Clinton.

The media are loving this, and not just because it’s a juicy story. For a year now, journalists have been reporting on Trump saying controversial and inflammatory things and predicting his imminent demise, only to see him keep winning. So there is a bit of see-we-told-you-so now that this story has blown up.

Newt Gingrich, despite reports that he is on Trump’s VP list, said it was the candidate’s biggest mistake. Lindsey Graham, who had been tiptoeing toward a rapproachement with Trump, is now asking GOP leaders to un-endorse him. It has been painful to watch other Republicans, from Mitch McConnell to Chris Christie to Bob Corker, dance around the controversy.

Former rivals like Marco Rubio can’t resist: “I ran for president, and I warned this was going to happen.”

And the press seems determined to make this a Republican Party problem.

Just take a look at the Washington Post’s op-ed page yesterday:

George Will: “The ‘Big Price’ Paul Ryan Has Paid for Supporting Donald Trump.”

Richard Cohen: “Paul Ryan’s Profile in Cowardice.”

Dana Milbank: Republicans Discover that Trump is an Actual Racist.”

Gene Robinson: “Endorsing Trump Will Leave a Mark.”

And he gets whacked by the New York Times editorial page: “Mr. Trump holds the rule of law in contempt.”

Plus, Buzzfeed has decreed that he is so odious it is canceling a million-dollar RNC advertising contract on Trump’s behalf.

You’re even starting to see comments like this, from CNBC contributor and former anchor Ron Insana:

“I am beginning to think Trump will not be the Republican candidate for president this year. The GOP may abandon him. He may not be able to field a VP. He can't find surrogates. I predict he may take his ball and go home.”

Trump isn’t going anywhere. The question is whether his statement enables him to move on from this mess and how much he has damaged himself, especially with Hispanic voters and leaders of his own party.

He has been a master of changing the subject in the past. But scrutiny as a general election nominee is more intense than when you’re mocking your rivals as Lyin’ Ted and Little Marco. Trump had better hope that Clinton, who has clinched her own nomination, is subjected to the same level of media probing and skepticism.