Donald Trump's attacks on a federal judge for his "Mexican heritage" are beginning to have concrete consequences, with Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois becoming the first GOP lawmaker to rescind his support for the presumptive Republican nominee.
Kirk, a moderate Republican considered in danger of losing his seat this fall, said in March he would plan to vote for Trump should the real estate mogul become the nominee. But on Tuesday, Kirk said he "cannot and will not support my party's nominee for president regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party."
"It is absolutely essential that we are guided by a commander in chief with a responsible and proper temperament, discretion and judgment," Kirk said in a statement. "Our president must be fit to command the most powerful military the world has ever seen, including an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons. After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world."
Trump has repeatedly gone after Judge Gonzalo Curiel – a federal judge in California overseeing a case involving fraud allegations against the shuttered Trump University – accusing him of being biased against the billionaire businessman because of his call to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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Kirk's reversal came after both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, respectively, disavowed Trump's comments as "the textbook definition of a racist comment" and "outrageous."
But neither Ryan nor McConnell said Trump's comments were disqualifying, instead calling for the former reality television star to change his tune.
"I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable," Ryan said at an event intended to launch an anti-poverty initiative in a neighborhood of the nation's capital. "But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not."
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And speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, McConnell said Trump needs to pivot to a general election-appropriate tone.
"It's time to quit attacking various people you competed with or various minority groups in the country and get on message," McConnell said. "He has an opportunity to do that. This election is eminently winnable. ... We are all anxious to hear what he may say next."
Trump largely has been defiant in the face of the increasingly sharp criticism over his comments aimed at Curiel. During a Monday call with campaign surrogates, as first reported by Bloomberg, he urged his supporters to turn the tables on reporters asking questions about the Trump University case.
"I should have won this thing years ago," Trump said on the call. "The people asking the questions – those are the racists."
Tuesday afternoon, Trump released a statement saying it was "unfortunate" his comments had been "misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage." But he did not apologize, nor did he back off his criticism of Curiel.
"The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard," he said. "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."
Although some Republicans in Congress have been willing to criticize Trump in the past – including several who have said they won't support him in the fall – the response to the latest brouhaha has been different.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, characterized Trump's attack on Curiel as "racially toxic," though the senator said he'd still be supporting Trump in the election.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has not endorsed Trump but has not ruled it out, told reporters that Trump's comments could make him vulnerable to a challenge at the Republican National Convention in July.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has opposed Trump from the time he ended his own brief bid for the Republican nomination, urged his colleagues to use this moment as a chance to take a stand against Trump.
"This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy," Graham told The New York Times.
"If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it," he said. "There'll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary [Clinton]."
On Tuesday, Kirk said he hoped other Republicans would follow his lead by withdrawing their support for Trump's candidacy.
"I think we should send a strong message to The Donald that racism and bigotry are not going to be tolerated in the party of [Abraham] Lincoln," he said.
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