Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking Republican, on Tuesday called Donald J. Trump’s remarks about a Latino judge “racist,” an extraordinary indictment that generated a fresh wave of criticism and panic from other Republicans. By the end of the day, Mr. Trump was forced into a rare moment of damage control and said that his words had been “misconstrued.”
Mr. Trump, who said last week that a Mexican-American judge in a case involving Trump University was biased against him because of his heritage, issued a statement Tuesday saying, “I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial.” He added that he was simply questioning whether he was receiving a fair trial, but he did not apologize for his remarks, something many Republicans had urged him to do.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans faced an increasingly difficult task — giving Mr. Trump their support while still keeping their distance from his inflammatory language. While many Republicans continued to affirm their support for Mr. Trump, others appeared ready to abandon him, throwing the once stolid party further into disarray.
“I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for president,” said Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, becoming the first Republican senator running for re-election to break with Mr. Trump. “After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world” or to control the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Mr. Kirk is perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent Republican, in a state where Mr. Trump is likely to be a drag on the ticket. Mr. Kirk, who still speaks with difficulty from a stroke in 2012, also noted that Mr. Trump has mocked a disabled reporter.
Others were close to following Mr. Kirk. “If Donald remains Donald, I will not vote for him,” declared Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who echoed Mr. Ryan’s denunciation of Mr. Trump’s comments.
In a victory speech in Westchester County on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump struck a measured tone, saying he understood the responsibility of carrying the mantle of the Republican Party. “I will never, ever let you down,” he said.
But Mr. Trump’s more incendiary remarks in other arenas have left many congressional Republicans facing a painful dilemma. Those who are on the ballot defending the party’s majorities this year need Mr. Trump’s voters to win, and risk angering them with any full disavowal of the nominee. But to continue to embrace him as he openly injects race into the campaign poses its own dangers.
Even Republicans who have praised his candidacy warned on Tuesday that the party may have to separate itself from its standard-bearer.
Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has met privately with Mr. Trump and been mentioned as a vice-presidential choice, said “there could be” a line that the presumptive nominee crosses that would make him withdraw his support.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Jennifer Steinhauer, Jonathan Martin and David M. Herszenhorn