Earlier this month, Donald Trump held a rally in New Mexico. The state’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez — the first Latina governor in our nation’s history — said she was too “busy” to attend. The GOP nominee responded to that slight by informing thousands of New Mexican Trumpists that their governor was showering the state in food stamps and Syrian refugees because she couldn’t be bothered to actually “do the job.”
But on Thursday night, Trump was in a peace-making mood. The tycoon told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he’d like to have Martinez’s endorsement because “I respect her. I have always liked her.”
Martinez has yet to oblige, for reasons that may be related to a second interview the GOP nominee gave that same night. Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, the tycoon argued that the federal judge overseeing two class-action lawsuits against Trump University should recuse himself because his “Mexican heritage” is “an inherent conflict of interest,” in light of Trump’s plan to build a border wall.
This isn’t quite a “mask-slip” moment, since Trump’s true face has been easy to discern from day one. Nonetheless, on the question of whether the candidate’s anti-immigration rhetoric is informed by racial animus, Trump no longer has access to even implausible deniability.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s heritage — and his membership in a Latino professional organization — are the only evidence Trump cites for the judge’s inherent prejudice against him. He has not identified public statements Curiel has made about border policy, only the fact that he is a Latino and that he associates with other Latinos in the legal world.
Thus, the mogul seems to be arguing that any American with Mexican ancestry has an interest in opposing a border wall and can’t be trusted to be fair-minded not only on that policy question, but on any public matter involving an advocate of restricting immigration. He has also argued throughout his campaign that a border wall is a prerequisite for Americans “to have a country.” Taken together, these assertions imply the ugliest reading of Trump’s messaging, the one his white nationalist supporters claim to hear: If Mexican Americans don’t want the United States to be a country, in what sense are they Americans?
One might think that Trump would experience some cognitive dissonance in trying to ingratiate himself with a Latina politician the same night he called her demographic’s patriotism into question.
But perhaps the two sentiments aren’t in tension. Maybe Trump is treating Martinez with more charity because he has realized she cannot help her reluctance to endorse him; it’s just a defect of her kind.