After several days of heavy criticism (including from fellow Republicans), Donald Trump has released a statement about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel that almost — almost — looks like an apology for insinuating Curiel was biased because of his Mexican heritage.
The statement is pretty long (due to a digression in the middle in which Trump rambles about how awesome Trump University is and how no one should be suing it). You can read the whole thing here. Below are the parts that are relevant to Trump's attacks on Curiel:
It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent. The American justice system relies on fair and impartial judges. All judges should be held to that standard. I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.
Normally, legal issues in a civil case would be heard in a neutral environment. However, given my unique circumstances as nominee of the Republican Party and the core issues of my campaign that focus on illegal immigration, jobs and unfair trade, I have concerns as to my ability to receive a fair trial.
I am fighting hard to bring jobs back to the United States. Many companies – like Ford, General Motors, Nabisco, Carrier – are moving production to Mexico. Drugs and illegal immigrants are also pouring across our border. This is bad for all Americans, regardless of their heritage.
Due to what I believe are unfair and mistaken rulings in this case and the Judge’s reported associations with certain professional organizations, questions were raised regarding the Obama appointed Judge’s impartiality. It is a fair question. I hope it is not the case.
While this lawsuit should have been dismissed, it is now scheduled for trial in November. I do not intend to comment on this matter any further. With all of the thousands of people who have given the courses such high marks and accolades, we will win this case!
Shorter Trump: Not all Mexican Americans are biased — just the ones who are proud of it
There's no doubt that Trump isn't apologizing for what he said about Curiel: "It is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued" is a classic non-apology apology. The question is whether, by saying, "I do not feel that one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial," he's disowning his previous attacks.
The answer to that is: kind of. What Trump is doing is walking back some of his comments over the past several days, while retrenching his attack against Curiel in particular.
It's possible that Trump actually never meant to say that all Mexican Americans are biased against him, but he's said it anyway, and now he's walking it back. His comments about Curiel (per usual) have been rambling and careless; maybe he just let his tongue get away with him.
After all, every time Trump has made disparaging references to Curiel's "Mexican heritage," he's been careful to preface his attacks with praise of "the Hispanics." (His answers to follow-up questions about a hypothetical Muslim or woman judge have also been in this vein — he's said such a judge might be biased, not that she definitely would be.)
But when it comes specifically to Curiel, Trump's argument, from the beginning, is that Curiel's pride in his ethnicity — and, specifically, his membership in a Latino lawyers association (which Trump's campaign appears to have confused with a mainstream Latino advocacy organization) — makes him unusually likely to oppose Trump's immigration policy and therefore Trump himself.
He's still saying that in this statement: that Curiel's "reported association with certain professional organizations" raised questions about his impartiality.
Furthermore, the statement continues to imply that Curiel is biased against Trump because Trump wants to keep out "drugs and illegal immigrants" — implying that Curiel must not want to do these things.
The leap from "has association with certain professional organizations" to "opposes securing the border" only makes sense if you think that joining a Latino lawyers group (or even a Latino advocacy group) means Curiel is more loyal to his ethnicity than to his country. You don't have to believe this is true of all Hispanics, or all Mexican Americans. But it does call into question the patriotism of millions of Latinos (and Muslims, and women) who are members of organizations based on their identities.
So, sure, Donald Trump isn't saying that having Mexican parents makes you inherently biased. He’s saying something narrower, but worse: that people who are proud enough of their heritage to join an organization are biased — not only against Trump but against America itself.