Several top Arkansas Republican elected officials Tuesday criticized Donald Trump's attacks on the Mexican-American judge who is overseeing the Trump University lawsuit, while others declined to comment.
Democratic political candidates also condemned the Republican presidential candidate for making an issue of the Indiana-born judge's ancestral homeland.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a written statement challenging Trump's stand.
"Criticizing and trying to disqualify a judge because of the judge's ethnic heritage is antithetical to everything that is true and good about America," he wrote.
In recent days, Trump has repeatedly criticized U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel's handling of a case that pits the New York businessman against former students who paid thousands of dollars to take real estate seminars that bore Trump's name.
In interviews, Trump said the judge, as the son of Mexican immigrants, might have a conflict of interest in the case because of his ethnicity. "He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico," Trump told CNN in one instance.
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump said his remarks had been "misconstrued."
But Hutchinson and other politicians who had heard the remarks said they were offensive.
"I must say from a personal standpoint that I have a daughter-in-law who is of Mexican heritage. She is a U.S. citizen and loves America. She should be valued because of who she is as a person and not judged because of where she was born," Hutchinson added.
While promising to support the Republican presidential nominee, Hutchinson said he would work to have that nominee reflect Republican principles, including "the essential American value of equal opportunity for all."
On Capitol Hill, Arkansas' lawmakers also expressed concern about Trump's rhetoric.
In an interview, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack said he strongly disagrees "with both the content and the tenor of Mr. Trump's" comments. Womack described Curiel as "a distinguished federal judge."
Arguing that a judge's ethnic heritage makes him unable to administer the laws impartially is "the very definition, in my judgment, of racism," Womack said. "That's not who we are. It's not who we need to be. And at a time when the Republican Party needs to be united and focused on the issues that go to the fundamental beliefs of our nation, this is certainly not a constructive step in that direction."
Asked whether Trump is a racist, Womack said, "Only Mr. Trump can answer that question."
Arkansas' U.S. Sen. John Boozman called Trump's statements "inappropriate" and "out of line."
"I certainly disagree with what he said," the Republican from Rogers said. "This particular gentleman is from Indiana. He's an American, and he's really a great example of the American story. He's somebody whose family came over here, and he's risen to the very top of his profession, so he's somebody that should be applauded in that regard."
Asked whether Trump is a racist, Boozman said: "I don't think that's the case. I just think that he was being himself and just popping off in regard to that particular [issue]."
Democrat Conner Eldridge, an attorney from Fayetteville who is challenging Boozman's re-election bid, called Trump's words "hateful" and "rhetoric that we should not tolerate."
"These comments are racist. They're offensive, and we don't need to tiptoe around them. We need to be very clear about that," he said.
Eldridge said Boozman has been slow to distance himself from Trump's statements.
"I believe the job of a U.S. senator is to be in front, to lead and to speak out. That's what Arkansans expect. And on issue after issue, Sen. Boozman is either silent or slow to the party, and that's unacceptable," he said.
In a written statement, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman called Trump's comments "self-serving and inappropriate," but he said Trump would be a better president than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
"It is my hope that this incident will be an isolated one but should it be necessary, I will continue to speak out against harmful rhetoric that diverts from the issues that are truly important in this race for the future of our country," the Republican from Hot Springs said.
Several of Westerman's colleagues in the all-Republican Arkansas delegation preferred to steer clear of the issue.
"He has no comment on that," a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton wrote.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford's spokesman said he doubted the lawmaker would be reachable for comment.
U.S. Rep. French Hill would likely be unavailable for comment, a campaign spokesman said.
Hill's Democratic challenger, Dianne Curry, released a written statement saying she "condemns" Trump's statements.
She called on Hill to take a stand, as well.
"Demagogues can be found in both political parties, whether it's George Wallace in the Democratic or Donald Trump in the Republican. The mark of true leadership is defining the moment and saying those people are wrong," she said.
A Section on 06/08/2016
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