BISMARCK – Two Republicans fighting for the GOP nomination for governor said Wednesday they don’t agree with Donald Trump’s accusations that a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit on Trump University is biased because of his Mexican heritage.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Fargo entrepreneur Doug Burgum distanced themselves from Trump’s comments as they close in on Tuesday’s primary election that will decide which candidate advances as the GOP nominee and likely favorite in November.
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Forum News Service surveyed the two candidates and top GOP officeholders after state Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, issued a statement early Wednesday calling on his Republican opponent, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, to follow the example of other Republican leaders by disavowing what Glassheim called Trump’s “racially charged and factually false” attacks on Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
Stenehjem said he can’t know if Trump is a racist, “but there is no doubt his comment is racist in nature and offensive under any circumstances.”
“I disavow his statement and reject his assessment of the judge’s motivation,” Stenehjem said in an emailed statement. “This incident is entirely inappropriate and unacceptable for anyone to make, and especially so for anyone who seeks to be president.”
Burgum’s campaign was much briefer in its response, saying through communications manager Kate Mund, “Doug does not agree with Donald Trump’s comments or language.” Mund said the campaign would have no further comment.
Both Stenehjem and current Gov. Jack Dalrymple have previously said they will support the official GOP nominee who emerges from the Republican National Convention July 18-21 in Cleveland. Burgum has said he endorses Trump but not necessarily all of his comments.
Stenehjem said Wednesday he favored another candidate through the presidential primaries but has committed to support the eventual nominee, “and I will still do so.” He said in the interest of North Dakota’s economy, “we cannot afford the alternative.”
“We expect better from our presidential candidates and I hope that as November approaches we can see Mr. Trump become more presidential,” he said.
Don Larson, Hoeven’s chief of staff and state director who advises his campaign after hours, provided an emailed statement saying, “Senator Hoeven disagrees with the comment that Donald Trump made about the judge, he feels that the comment was wrong, and he shouldn’t have said it.”
Hoeven – who has said he’ll support the nominee but hasn’t endorsed Trump outright – still supports the real estate mogul as the party’s presumptive nominee, “but believes he needs to refrain from these types of negative comments and focus on the issues, with positive solutions,” Larson wrote.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who was the first to endorse Trump among the state’s top GOP elected officials, also drew fire Wednesday from his Libertarian challenger, Fargo businessman Jack Seaman, for not denouncing Trump’s comments.
“I believe Trump’s comments to be racist, I condemn them, and I call on Kevin Cramer to do the same, as did Speaker of the House Paul Ryan by calling them ‘the textbook definition of a racist comment,’ ” Seaman said in a statement.
In an interview Wednesday, Cramer said he disagrees with Trump’s comment about the judge, saying, “I don’t think a person’s race has a thing to do with their ability to be objective.”
But Cramer also said he doesn’t believe Trump is racist “at all.”
“Because if he was racist, he’d confine his criticism to a race. Donald Trump offends everybody equally,” Cramer said, adding, “For him, it’s business. It’s probably ill-mannered, it’s probably not great politics, but it’s also part of what some people actually like about him.”
Trump said Tuesday that his comments about the judge had been “misconstrued” and that he doesn’t believe “one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial,” CNN reported. He added that he also has “concerns as to my ability to receive a fair trial” because of his status as the presumptive nominee and his campaign’s focus on illegal immigration, the cable network reported.
Cramer said he expects more cringe-worthy comments from Trump between now and November.
“As he learns the business of being a presidential candidate … he’ll get better at it like we all do,” he said.
Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said Wednesday the governor hadn’t seen the video of Trump’s comments about the judge and didn’t feel comfortable talking about it until he views it for himself and “gets the full context.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday backed away from his pledge to support the GOP nominee “whoever that is,” saying he wants Trump to renounce what he said about the judge, Politico reported. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., withdrew his endorsement of Trump on Tuesday, citing the former reality TV star’s latest comments and “past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me.”