If you’re Donald Trump, you must surely know that opponents are on a constant search for weapons to beat your brains in.
In most cases, if you’re Donald Trump, it won’t matter. Things that would have sunk other candidates have barely nicked him; some may have actually helped.
But now, as the nation starts to pay closer attention, the margin for error has narrowed. This means if there is a controversy that requires clarity, then that’s what you deliver.
Donald Trump is having a tough stretch as the primary season comes to an end, not because he is a racist, but because he has done a thoroughly inadequate job insulating himself from that charge in a case that is so easy to explain that even I can do it.
His complaint is that a Hispanic judge, Gonzalo Curiel, is treating him unjustly in the lawsuits against Trump University, which may well be the case. But does he explain the sadly common practice of racial politics poisoning the judiciary? Not quite. America currently understands his objection as: “The judge is a Mexican.”
This has led to sprawling sessions of hand-wringing from Trump critics reminding us constantly that the judge is from Indiana, and as American as any of us. This is undeniably true, and wholly irrelevant to Trump’s stated concerns.
So here is the case he could have been making these last few days:
Judge Curiel’s ethnicity is of no inherent significance whatsoever. But there are reasons to believe that he may harbor the kind of racially charged political animus common in many walks of life.
He is a member of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, which his defenders will accurately assert is not the same as the infamously radical National Council of La Raza. But that lawyers’ group is far from the nonpartisan enclave some have suggested in an attempt to dissuade suggestions of Curiel’s possible impartiality.
The SDLRLA website lists links of various groups it considers part of its “community.” It is a litany of pro-amnesty interests who could be expected to recoil at a Trump agenda that promises a return to serious borders.
The group may align itself with whomever it pleases, but if those associations carry a distinct anti-Trump flavor, it is hardly racist to ask if there may be a political grudge flavoring the Trump University proceedings.
A law firm appointed to a plaintiff by Judge Curiel has contributed to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and paid the Clintons well over a half-million dollars in speaking fees. Reactions to this may differ, but is a defendant off base in harboring concerns in that light?
Finally, a sitting Supreme Court justice has confirmed that racial logic is welcome in modern rulings. Have we forgotten Sonia Sotomayor’s 2009 claim that a “wise Latina” could be a source of better rulings than jurists sadly lacking her ethnicity? That is an affront to the very concept of impartial justice, and a valuable part of any assertion of doubt about Judge Curiel’s fairness.
Trump has repeated that his argument against the judge is behavioral, not racial. But that requires a few moments of nuanced heavy lifting so that people don’t bog down on “He’s a Mexican” and “He’s proud of his heritage.” He may feel invincible in view of what he has gotten away with. But a general election win means reaching beyond his base to attract new supporters by erasing, not creating, doubts.
His concerns about Judge Curiel are thoroughly sound and supportable. It would be nice if his explanations were.
Mark Davis, the host of a radio show in Texas, is a special contributor to the Dallas Morning News.
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