The White House lashed out at congressional Republicans as a party of racists Thursday, calling the GOP defenders of the Confederate flag and silent partners to Donald Trump’s Mexican-bashing rhetoric.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest opened his daily press briefing with an unsolicited broadside on Republicans, saying they are “out of step” with Americans’ values on race relations and immigration.
He blasted GOP lawmakers as “eager to protect the status of the Confederate flag on National Park Service grounds” and reminded the public that the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was once described as “David Duke without the baggage.” Mr. Duke is a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
The White House spokesman also seemingly went out of his way to link the flag issue with Mr. Trump, a leading GOP presidential candidate who is under fire for characterizing many Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug runners.
“These are the same congressional Republicans who have declined to criticize the race-baiting rhetoric of a leading Republican presidential candidate,” Mr. Earnest said, without mentioning Mr. Trump by name. “That’s to say nothing of the Senate Republican [Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas] who saluted that candidate.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Thursday that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric “is offensive to not only Hispanic citizenry but other citizenry.”
“He’s entitled to say what he wants to say,” Mr. McCain said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
“But I guarantee you the overwhelming majority [of Arizonans] do not agree with his attitude that he has displayed towards our Hispanic citizens,” Mr. McCain said. “We love them.”
White House officials clearly viewed the effort to portray Mr. Trump as the face of the Republican Party as a win-win heading into 2016. Democrats have already solidified their position among Hispanic voters through Mr. Obama’s executive action last year granting deportation amnesty to illegal immigrants. And there’s no love lost between President Obama and Mr. Trump, who have a history of publicly mocking each other.
Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexicans are creating anxiety among many in his party, who fear his remarks will set back the GOP even further with the fast-growing Latino population just as presidential candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are reaching out to them.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus urged Mr. Trump in a phone call Wednesday to “tone it down,” although the real-estate mogul characterized the call as “congratulatory.”
Mr. Trump instead told CNN on Thursday the call had a “congratulatory” tone — but conceded that Priebus suggested he “tone it down a little bit.”
“He did say, ‘you know, you could keep it down a little bit, but you can’t change your personality and I understand that.’ It was really a nice call, a congratulatory call,” Mr. Trump told CNN.
He said Mr. Priebus congratulated him on his surge in the polls. In a new survey released Thursday, Mr. Trump leads the 2016 GOP field in North Carolina.
Mr. Trump was the choice of 16 percent of Republican primary voters in the state, followed by Mr. Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 12 percent apiece, according to the survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.
“Three weeks after his candidacy announcement Donald Trump just seems to be getting stronger,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “It may just be a matter of time before the novelty wears off, but it hasn’t yet.”
Mr. Trump was tied for second in a recent Quinnipiac poll on the Republican field in the early state of Iowa, and was in second in a recent CNN/WMUR poll on the GOP field in New Hampshire. He was also in second in a recent national CNN/ORC poll on the Republican field.
• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.
• Dave Boyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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