Not that silent.

Photographer: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Trump Orders Republicans to Be True to His School

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
Read More.
a | A

For all the uproar over Donald Trump's attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, not one Republican has withdrawn support of the party's presumptive nominee, or even reconsidered the blanket excuse for backing him that Hillary Clinton is worse.

Maybe the revelation on Monday of Trump's instructions to high-ranking supporters such as former Senator Scott Brown and Governor Jan Brewer will change that. On a conference call, according to Bloomberg Politics, the candidate ordered his surrogates to continue to question the credibility of Curiel, who is hearing a class-action suit against Trump University and, according to the Donald, is obviously biased because he is from Mexico (never mind that the judge was born in Indiana). Trump also commanded his backers to respond to pesky questions by calling the reporters who ask them "racists." To top it off, he borrowed language from the civil rights movement to describe his own alleged victimization, promising “We will overcome.”

QuickTake How the U.S. Elects Its Presidents

Over the weekend, it was breathtaking to watch Trump reach new depths as his party stood by. The worst equivocation may have been from his latest endorser, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who promised to do nothing more than to “keep speaking out” when Trump says something “out of left field.” On what field does questioning the independence of a judge on the basis of race belong? 

By reacting mildly to their standard-bearer's latest violations of the norms of politics and decency, Republicans have allowed Trump to put his brand on their party as if it’s one of his hotels. Not to be left out in the cold of a Trump presidency, they’ve put their consciences in a blind trust (with the exception of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who valiantly rose to Curiel's defense on Monday). The party is acting as if Trump blowing various dog whistles to keep his base happy is just politics as usual. In reality, their big tent has become a gathering place for voters who are enraged by having to press “1 for English.”

All along, Trump’s strategy has been to layer one disgruntled group atop another, assuming correctly that it would be enough to win the Republican primaries and, perhaps, the presidency. He found his first ardent followers when he became the most famous proponent of the birther movement, retailing unfounded questions about Barack Obama's country of birth that were a cover for their feeling that he was an illegitimate president because he’s black. Then Trump fired up those sympathetic to his assessment of Mexicans as “rapists,” with the building of a wall to keep them out and a police action to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Shortly thereafter, he put the world's 1.6 billion Muslims on notice that they could be barred from the U.S., too.

On "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Trump suggested that Muslim judges could be as ineligible to hear cases as were Mexican ones such as Curiel.

Trump is using identity politics to pressure a judge to recuse himself or be disqualified. The extreme behavior is partly prompted by the peril presented by the suits over his putative university. Trump and his businesses have been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades (about 70 have been filed since he announced his candidacy a year ago), according to USA Today. But the one targeting Trump U. would be particularly costly if he has to make restitution to the students he allegedly defrauded.

Just as important, he wouldn’t want his supporters to read the unsealed documents (the depositions that didn’t qualify as “trade secrets") and learn that he wasn't on the side of the little guy when he thought up his school. Even though he has sought in the campaign to make himself the champion of Us -- those ignored by the elites -- in the battle against Them, he’s the Them.

Until now, nothing, no matter how offensive, has peeled off Trump’s supporters. Racism and misogyny, apparently, aren't disqualifiers. But if the depositions given by his former employees and students show that the self-named university he set up was as rigged and corrupt as the system Trump denounces on the campaign trail? His fake school was designed for the very purpose of enriching Trump at the expense of those who came looking for a leg up.

By his own words under oath, Trump was only the pitchman for Trump U. He did not handpick his “teachers” or “presenters” (often salesman who had not succeeded in real estate, were out of work or even bankrupt). They didn’t need to know much so long as they followed a script, which included claims that the teachers had dined with Trump and would divulge the secrets of his success. Upsold students willing to put $35,000 on their credit cards might even meet the great man himself.

The depositions show in vivid detail how the school worked. Typical is the student who was told he would learn how to buy and flip foreclosed houses but ended up so deeply in debt from the course that his own house was foreclosed on.

These marks -- the unemployed, underemployed, elderly and wide-eyed pursuers of the American Dream -- didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt. They got their picture taken with a cardboard cutout of the Donald.

Trump’s lawyers could have asked for Curiel’s removal. They haven’t because there’s no conflict of interest and what’s more, the judge has bent over backwards to be fair to Trump, including granting multiple delays that put the trial after the November election.

At one time, Trump felt so powerful he claimed he wouldn’t be charged if he shot someone walking down Fifth Avenue. But maybe not this time. His feckless Republican followers may have reached their limit with the candidate, who assailed his own aides for trying to tamp down the attacks on the judge. But Trump can’t back off because he means it. His barrage against Curiel exposes his weaknesses: That he believes “others” are to blame for any problems and his fear that he could be exposed for who he truly is to those he’s duped. Mostly he’s afraid of becoming one of the losers he loathes. He’s not stopping himself because he can’t. Republicans still can.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net