Donald Trump has broken another convention of political behaviour, using a campaign rally in California to launch into the federal judge who is presiding over a civil case regarding his now defunct Trump University calling him “hostile”, “a total disgrace” - and a “Mexican”.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a United States District Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, should not only be removed from the case in question, Mr Trump insisted, but also should be investigated. What that investigation would be about, he didn’t specify. The judge’s chambers declined to respond.
The billionaire thus again showed off two character facets the country has seen before - a thin skin and a willingness to bully. It began with Mr Trump suddenly interrupting his own flow at a rally in San Diego - where Judge Curiel’s court is located - announcing his desire to talk about him for two minutes. Instead he plunged into an ad hominem rant that lasted nearly 12 minutes.
All this while outside the Convention Centre in San Diego on Friday evening, scores of protestors chanted angrily about the Republican presumptive nominee, accusing him of promoting hatred with his words and brandishing piñatas in his likeness, adorned variously with the nose of a pig and eyes in the form of dollar signs. Some were beaten back by baton-wielding police officers after trying to surge out of the protest pen they had been confined in.
There were similar scenes at a Trump rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Tuesday when protesters, some waving giant Mexican flags, hurled burning T-shirts, plastic bottles and other items at police officers, injuring several. Police responded by firing pepper spray and smoke grenades into the crowd outside the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Mr Trump has denied having any role in encouraging anything beyond love and peace at is rallies blaming any scuffles and confrontations on the protestors. Yet critics who say he is precisely stoking tension and hatred, particularly against minorities in the United States, will point to the vitriol poured publicly over Judge Curiel on Friday as fresh evidence.
“When you are whipping people up, it contributes to an atmosphere that leads to the potential of political violence. Words matter,” commented Matt Dallak, a professor of political management in the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
There seemed to be many reasons why this particular judge might be a no-go in Mr Trump’s view, above all first his handling of the civil lawsuit against Trump University filed by students who paid $35,000 to learn to be world-beating estate agents and said they learned no such thing.
The fraud litigation is due to go to trial in Judge Curiel’s courtroom in late November just after the general election. Mr Trump’s lawyers said last month that their client, who may or may not be president by then, has agreed to testify.
“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel,” Mr. Trump told his supporters, inciting a chorus of boos against the absent judge.
“The judge was appointed by Barack Obama, federal judge. Frankly, he should recuse himself because he’s given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative.”
“I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself,” he barreled on. “Judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK? But we’ll come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I’m president and I come back to do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. OK. This is called life, folks.”
As if being promoted to the federal bench by the sitting president were not bad enough, Mr Trump derided his alleged ethnic background, getting himself into contortions about his relationship with Latinos - not good, whatever he says - while surely drawing a line in the minds of many of his supporters to the smear he made at the outset of his campaign nearly a year ago when he likened Mexican immigrants to “rapists” and “criminals” and vowed to build a wall to keep them out.
“I’ll be seeing you in November, either as president…” Mr Trump said, without quite finishing the thought.. “I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s doing this.” And then: “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican…I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump.”
Judge Curiel was born in East Chicago, Indiana.
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