Donald Trump suffered stinging rebukes from every side Monday but refused to back down from his remarks about the Mexican heritage of a federal judge, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s unapologetic off-the-cuff style this time threatened to inflict serious damage.
As top Republicans shunned Mr. Trump, Democrats unloaded full-bore on the billionaire businessman, labeling him a racist and a bigot.
“I am also a proud Latina, and I am disgusted by Donald Trump’s hateful, xenophobic and bigoted attacks on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel,” New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a press conference on a city sidewalk in front of Trump Tower.
“Let’s not mince words here. Donald Trump’s attacks on Judge Curiel are racist,” she said. “It’s gross. It’s vile. And it is not normal behavior for anyone — let alone someone running to be president of the United States.”
Mr. Trump has weathered similar charges throughout the campaign for his tough stances against illegal immigrants and radical Muslims, as well as for hesitating to disavow an endorsement from former white supremacist David Duke. But this time he alienated Republicans who only recently warmed to his status as the likely party standard-bearer and invited a powerful onslaught from Democrats.
“He’s Mexican,” Mr. Trump said last week about the judge hearing a civil fraud case against Trump University. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
By questioning whether Judge Curiel, who was born in Indiana to parents from Mexico, had a conflict of interest, the real estate mogul not only impugned a judge based on ethnicity but also challenged the treasured notion of American blind justice.
In a subsequent interview, Mr. Trump said a Muslim judge also could be biased against him because of his proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Derision poured in from likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, from other Democrats coast to coast, from immigration activists and from Republicans.
But Mr. Trump vowed not to apologize and insisted that “a lot of people agree” with him.
He dismissed the assessment by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Mr. Trump, that it was the “worst mistake Trump has made.”
Mr. Trump called Mr. Gingrich’s comment “inappropriate.”
“All I’m trying to do is figure out why I’m being treated so unfairly by a judge, and a lot of people agree with it,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” program.
Mr. Trump is being sued by students who claim they were ripped off by Trump University, which teaches courses in real estate strategies. He said the case by a few disgruntled students should have been thrown out of court and that he has testimonials from thousands of satisfied students.
Republicans of every stripe stepped up to disavow Mr. Trump’s remark about the judge.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, a famously reserved and soft-spoken Maine Republican, called Mr. Trump’s remark “completely unacceptable” and not representative of “our American values.”
“Mr. Trump’s comments demonstrate both a lack of respect for the judicial system and the principle of separation of powers,” she said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who has not endorsed Mr. Trump, said the comment about the judge raised his concerns to a new level.
“It’s uncomfortable not having endorsed the Republican nominee, I have to say, but I can’t at this point,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Republican leaders breaking with Mr. Trump over the remark included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who brought himself to endorse Mr. Trump only last week.
Still, Mr. Trump’s words threatened to become a liability for every Republican.
America’s Vice, a leading immigration rights advocacy group, described the episode as a “moment of truth for Republicans.”
“Republicans who endorse or support Trump have a choice to make: Continue to embrace an authoritarian demagogue who promises to divide the country along racial and religious lines and trample on America’s democratic norms and traditions; or take a stand and revoke your support for Trump,” the group said in a press release.
“Stand by Trump and you stand for racism,” it said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called out Mr. McConnell for failing to use the word “racist” in denouncing Mr. Trump.
“Sen. McConnell and all congressional Republican leaders have never taken a stand against Trump’s vile rhetoric,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “That’s because the hate emanating from Trump’s mouth reflects the Republican Party’s agenda here in the United States Senate for the past 7 years. The agenda that Sen. McConnell himself promoted.”
In Judge Curiel’s home state, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody called Mr. Trump’s statement “divisive and toxic” and challenged Republicans to defend the judge.
“We’re here to publicly call out the Indiana Republican Party and its candidates and elected officials for turning a blind eye and not sticking to the morals we know as Hoosiers,” Mr. Zody said at a press conference in Indianapolis. “We’re asking Republicans to put politics aside and join us in an effort to protect the well-being of Indiana and everyone who calls themselves a Hoosier by condemning these remarks against a Hoosier.”
The Democratic National Committee condemned Mr. Trump’s “racist rants” in an email blasted to supporters that also highlighted the opposition among Republicans.
“These divisive and irresponsible comments are just the latest reasons why Donald Trump does not have the temperament to occupy the Oval Office, said DNC National Press Secretary Mark Paustenbach.
Mrs. Clinton, who called the remarks a “typical Trump-ism,” made the same argument.
“Trump’s continuing ethnic slurs and rants against everyone, including a distinguished federal judge, I think makes my point rather conclusively,” she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mr. Trump received a modest measure of defense from Paul Curiel, the judge’s brother.
“I don’t think he is strictly an outright racist like some of your Ku Klux Klan. Those kinds of people are really racist, and they have no redeeming qualities,” he told CNN. “Trump, I don’t believe, is that caliber of person. But he is very, very uninformed.”