WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump defended his attacks on a Mexican-American judge on Friday, resisting pressure from top Republicans to moderate his tone out of concern he is hurting his chances to win the White House.
Trump’s bomb-throwing rhetoric helped him defeat 16 Republican rivals for the party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 election. But facing a tough fight with expected Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, many Republicans want him to present a more disciplined image.
Feeling confident his method has been a winner, Trump so far has waved off some of the advice from Republicans who support him but want less loose talk.
In a CNN interview, Trump escalated his attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the son of Mexican immigrants who is the presiding judge in lawsuits involving fraud allegations against Trump University, the New York businessman’s defunct real estate training school.
Trump suggested Curiel’s Mexican heritage was influencing the judge’s opinion about the case because Trump has campaigned on a platform of building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to stop illegal immigration.
“He’s proud of his heritage,” Trump said.
“He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings, rulings that people can’t even believe. This case should have ended years ago on summary judgment,” Trump said.
The judge a week ago unsealed documents related to the case.
Comments from the two top elected U.S. Republicans, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, reflected continued worries among establishment Republicans about Trump.
Ryan, who endorsed Trump on Thursday, said the comments from Trump about the judge were “out of left field.”
“He clearly says and does things I don’t agree with. And I’ve had to speak up ... (from) time to time when that has occurred. And I’ll continue to do that if that’s necessary. I hope it’s not,” Ryan told a Milwaukee radio station.
McConnell, speaking on MSNBC, raised concerns about Trump’s criticism of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party who can appeal to Hispanic voters. After attacking her record last week, Trump on Thursday moderated his tone and said he would like her endorsement.
“We ought to be trying to unify, he ought to be trying to unify the party behind him,” McConnell said of Trump. “Most of us are committed to supporting him and trying to bring the party together, and I think he needs to play his role on all of that as well.”
Trump received 32 percent support from Latino voters in an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll this week, a respectable number given his critical comments throughout the campaign about illegal immigrants, most of whom come from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
But the specter of Trump as the nominee has worried some Hispanic Republicans.
This week, Ruth Guerra, who is a Mexican-American, resigned as the Republican National Committee’s chief of Hispanic media relations. A source familiar with her departure said she was not comfortable with Trump as the nominee.
More broadly, Reince Preibus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been trying to persuade Trump to moderate his tone as a way to heal fissures in the party, at a time when Trump will need to rely on deep-pocketed Republican loyalists to finance a $1 billion campaign.
“He needs one thing and one thing only: discipline,” said a senior party official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But if a Trump rally in Redding, California, was any indication, the candidate feels his method is working.
“Temperament is a very important word,” Trump said, referring to Clinton’s charge that he is temperamentally unfit for the White House. “We need toughness in tone. We need toughness in temperament.”
Stung by attacks on him from Clinton on Thursday, Trump dredged up scandals from the 1990s to hit her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, saying they are dishonest. He cited Bill Clinton’s affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“First of all, she’s always got problems: Whitewater (a controversial real estate deal), impeachment, lies. He ‘didn’t have sex with that woman,’” Trump said. “These are lying people. We don’t need, folks, another four years of the Clintons.”
Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Will Dunham