By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — More than two weeks after Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants, he continues to dominate the Republican presidential campaign debate and to divide his rivals for the nomination.
Initially, most Republican candidates tried to ignore him. But as major corporations cut ties with Trump over his declaration that some Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug-runners, and as the issue continues to fill the airwaves of Spanish-language media, more candidates have spoken out, separating into two camps.
Those who hope to appeal to Latino voters, including the two Floridians in the race, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, as well as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have criticized Trump.
On the other side, several candidates who hope to consolidate support among conservative voters suspicious of immigration, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have defended Trump or avoided comment. A significant chunk of GOP voters have said in recent polls that they support Trump, who said as he kicked off his presidential campaign last month:
“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said, adding, “And some, I assume, are good people.”
Bush, who initially commented about Trump only in an interview in Spanish, stepped up his criticism over the weekend, calling Trump’s remarks “extraordinarily ugly” and “wrong.”
“He’s doing this to inflame and to incite and to draw attention to his campaign,” Bush said. “It doesn’t represent the Republican Party or its values.
“Politically, we’re going to win when we’re hopeful and optimistic and big and broad rather than just ‘grrrrrrr,’ just angry all the time,” Bush said. “There is no tolerance for it.”
Rubio, in a statement, said Trump’s comments were “not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive.”
And Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he was offended by Trump’s comments.
“I’ve said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party,” Perry said.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also separated himself from Trump, though more gently than some of the others.
“I would never besmirch all the people who come here,” Huckabee said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Sometimes, we get wrapped up in how many people are coming. The real question is, why are they coming?” he said. “If they’re coming because they want to be part of the American dream, if they want to come and share our flag, our interests, our language, assimilate into our culture because they believe in what we stand for, you know, then that’s the same reason our ancestors came.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Trump’s remarks inappropriate, although he added that he likes Trump personally.
By contrast, Cruz, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday, said, “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration.”
Trump has a “colorful way of speaking,” which is “not the way I speak,” Cruz said.
But “the Washington cartel supports amnesty,” and the media wants Republicans to attack each other, and “I’m not going to do it,” he said.
Trump has expressed surprise about the intensity of the criticism he has faced. “It’s bad for my brand,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News in which he lashed back at several of his GOP critics.
“The crime is raging. It’s violent, and people don’t want to even talk about it. If you talk about it, you are a racist. I don’t understand it,” he said.
Trump said Bush was “out of touch with the American people.”
Photo: Ted Cruz backed Donald Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants, though he said he wouldn’t have spoken as colorfully as the business mogul. DonkeyHotey/Flickr