Top Republicans denounce Trump comments on judge's Mexican heritage
Leading Republicans have united in an extraordinary denunciation of Donald Trump's attack on a US federal judge, with House Speaker Paul Ryan calling it "the textbook definition of a racist comment".
Mr Trump asserted that his comments are being "misconstrued", but did not back down or apologise for saying repeatedly that US district judge Gonzalo Curiel could not preside fairly over a case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said: "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."
Mr Trump's comments came in a lengthy statement in which he repeated claims that students at Trump University, far from being "fleeced" as some claim, and as evidence suggests, were overwhelmingly satisfied.
Moments before Mr Trump issued his defiant statement, a Republican senator who had previously indicated support for Trump withdrew his backing, as Republicans' attempts to unite behind the billionaire looked to be unravelling.
Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is in a competitive re-election race, said: "While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for president regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party.
"I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world."
Mr Kirk was the first leading Republican to publicly disavow earlier support for Trump.
Most others, including Mr Ryan, reaffirmed their plans to support him, but the situation exposed the peril for Republicans with the volatile and unpredictable property mogul as their standard-bearer.
Time and again, they are forced to answer for Mr Trump's latest divisive comment, distracting from their own agendas as well as their goals of winning back the White House and retaining Senate control.
On Tuesday, Republicans squirmed over what might have been the billionaire's most incendiary stance to date - the claim that Judge Curiel could not preside fairly over the Trump University case because the US-born judge is of Mexican heritage.
Mr Trump wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico.
Mr Ryan - who continues to support Mr Trump's candidacy - said: "I regret those comments he made.
"Claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.
"I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It's absolutely unacceptable."
However, Mr Ryan added: "But do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not."
Other Republicans avoided the word "racist", but made their disapproval crystal clear.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said: "My advice to our nominee would be to start talking about the issues the American people care about, and to start doing it now.
"In addition to that, it's time to quit attacking various people that you competed with, or various minority groups in the country, and get on-message."
Ron Weiser, one of the recently named top fundraisers for Trump and the Republican Party, said the nominee's comments on the judge are "obviously making it more difficult" to raise money.
Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota broadcast company billionaire, recently gave 100,000 US dollars (£69,000) to a pro-Trump group and describes himself as a reluctant Trump backer.
He said of Mr Trump's comments: "It's ridiculous. He's out of line.
"You don't attack a federal judge, and you certainly don't attack him on the heritage of his parents. It's totally off the wall, and I don't even have words to explain it."
Only his fear of Democrat Hillary Clinton picking Supreme Court justices is enough to keep him giving money to Trump, Mr Hubbard said.
Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator, called mr Trump's comments on the judge "racially toxic", but added: "He needs to get on to the general election and we need to win."
"Let's face it: Meet the old Trump, just like the new Trump," said Senator Jeff Flake, who has long opposed the billionaire's candidacy.
"We've got what we've got. That's not somebody who can win the White House."
Democrats ridiculed Republicans for denouncing Mr Trump's comments yet continuing to back the mogul, in evidence of how much ammunition he is giving them as they try to boost their own deeply flawed presumptive nominee in Mrs Clinton.
"If Republicans believe that a man who believes in religious and ethnic tests for federal judges is fit to be president of the United States, they must explain why this is an acceptable position," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.