THE ISSUE

Donald Trump has ignored the pleas of Republican leaders to cease his attacks on a Mexican-American federal judge who is presiding over lawsuits against Trump University. Not only has Trump refused, he has doubled down on his comments.

It’s an interesting strategy if you really consider it.

Systematically alienate ethnic and gender groups as part of an I-don’t-give-a-damn-who-I-offend political platform, talk non-specifically about making America great, and wake up on the morning of Nov. 9 as the 45th president of the United States. It is even more interesting, and terrifying to Republicans and Democrats alike, to consider the prospect of such a half-baked plan actually working.

Last weekend, Donald Trump, the Don Rickles of American politics, minus the wit and charm, went on national television and took his machete to the credibility of an Indiana-born federal judge whose parents happen to be Mexican.

U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel is presiding over fraud lawsuits against Trump University. Trump said he didn’t believe he could get a fair hearing in front of Curiel because the judge is “a Mexican” and that Curiel should recuse himself because of his “Mexican heritage.” Trump has introduced a controversial immigration plan that would involve, among other things, walling off the Mexican border.

If impugning the professionalism and character of one federal judge wasn’t enough, Trump was asked if he thought he wouldn’t get treated fairly by a hypothetical Muslim judge because of Trump’s comments about banning Muslims from the United States.

“That would be possible. Absolutely,” said Trump.

It’s fair to assume that if Trump had a beef with Japan, he’d say the same thing about a Japanese-American judge.

In Donald Trump’s world, there might be no boundaries defining propriety in a political forum. But those lines exist for many of the rest of us, and Trump has taken a giant leap to the other side.

After Sunday’s fiasco, GOP leaders from House Speaker Paul Ryan to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, among others, lined up to criticize Trump for his comments and urged the likely Republican nominee to talk about something else. While Gingrich has since softened his criticism, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina decried Trump's comments as the “the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy.” And Speaker Ryan, on Tuesday, called Trump’s comments the “textbook definition” of racism. 

When you attack someone based on no information other than the individual’s ethnicity, that is, indeed, racist.

Such rhetoric is bad for the country and our Constitution for so many reasons, not the least of which is you can’t have a president or, for that matter, a presidential candidate undermining the judiciary. It’s also bad for the political process, bad for the GOP, and it is baffling political strategy.

Trump has survived backlash from his own party. In fact, he seems to thrive on it. But when you verbally attack a federal judge only because he is Mexican-American, you’re going to have a tough time getting any electoral traction with minorities. Trump doesn’t seem to care but the GOP does, and people such as Mitch McConnell are smart enough to know that Republicans will be hard-pressed to win a general election if they get trounced, again, by Democrats when it comes to Latino and African-American votes.

There is such as a thing as bad publicity (e.g., Bartman, Steve; Simpson, O.J.) and it can kill a political campaign.

The GOP establishment is begging Trump to pivot to a “general election strategy.” That’s political shorthand for “start talking more about issues and stop offending people because we’re tired of apologizing for you.” So far, Trump has pivoted with all the ease of an aircraft carrier.

There is, of course, the chance that Trump is the smart one here and that he is playing this exactly right. Perhaps he believes the pushback he receives from within the GOP establishment, and outside of it, only galvanizes his supporters and that he emerges victorious because he’s played to his strengths rather than his weaknesses. Maybe there is something attractive about a candidate who is hated by both sides. After all, two years ago, no one outside of Trump himself — and that might even be a stretch — believed he would be the Republican nominee for president, so he has already proven more resilient than most of us thought.

If Trump is right, he wins in November. While you’re letting that marinate, ask yourself this question: If Donald Trump becomes president of the United States after such a sausage-making mess of a campaign, who really wins?