NEW YORK, United States, Jun 8 – Donald Trump on Tuesday climbed down under fire from Republican grandees in an explosive race row, insisting that days of belligerent attacks on a Mexican-American judge had been misconstrued.
The tycoon, who trails likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in national polls ahead of a November general election, has repeatedly claimed that Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is handling a lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University, is biased against him because his parents were born in Mexico.
“It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage,” the presumptive Republican nominee for president said in a carefully worded but lengthy statement.
“I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial,” the 69-year-old billionaire backtracked.
Trump’s statement came hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most senior elected Republican in the country who endorsed his candidacy only last week, described his criticism of the judge as “racist.”
“Claiming a person cannot do the job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Ryan told reporters. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Mark Kirk, a Republican senator from Illinois, broke ranks and said he was un-endorsing Trump, calling his remarks “dead wrong” and “un-American.”
“I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for president,” Kirk said. “I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world.”