Donald Trump leaves a Congressional Gold Medal in the Capitol's rotunda on March 24, 2015.
Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty

Why Donald Trump’s racist remarks matter

Updated

Even as a downward spiral drags down his business interests and presidential ambitions, Donald Trump has ignored virtually every possible chance to walk back his deeply offensive remarks about Mexican immigrants. Instead — just like lies — each time Trump has repeated his most damning assertions, they have only grown bigger and even more unwieldy.

First he called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists. Then they were killers, too. He accused the Mexican government of forcing Univision out of a broadcasting Miss USA and Miss Universe. And the sour Macy’s deal today? Trump claims that was totally his idea. He has suggested that Middle Eastern terrorists have illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Don’t worry, none of this is offensive, Trump says, because he “loves the Mexican people” and “the Latinos love Trump.”

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“Would you take any of that back, or rephrase any of it if you could?” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asked at the start of his interview with Trump on Tuesday night. The question came after the show played a section of his now infamous presidential announcement speech.

“No, because it’s totally accurate,” Trump responded.

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For what it’s worth, Trump’s claims are not accurate. Very little fact-checking is needed to see that his words are both out of touch and inflammatory. And in a sense, that’s on par with his reputation. He has branded his entire public persona as a brash, attention-hungry mogul willing to toe the line of controversy for a few ounces of free publicity. Trump has teased the prospect of a presidential run for years, and now that he’s officially in the race, his time has come to revel in the attention — whether it be positive or negative.

And even if general election voters don’t take Trump seriously as a viable GOP candidate, he’s bound to have a dramatic effect on the framing of the immigration debate. It’s an issue already dogging Republicans and one bound to remain a major issue throughout the 2016 election. When mainstream candidates take the stage next month for their first-ever primary debate of this election, it’s likely that Trump will be standing next to them, fielding the uncomfortable but genuine questions over how Republicans expect to make inroads with Latino voters in light of the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For some GOP candidates, Trump’s decision to throw political-correctness into the wind would be welcomed addition to the immigration debate. Any position against legal immigration or a pathway to citizenship or subtly divisive rhetoric is nowhere near as extreme as Trump’s comments. His controversy is now sucking up all the oxygen on the issue, leaving aside conversation on the substantive aspects of immigration platforms that could be seen as problematic come the general election.

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Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father is Cuban, even defended the real estate mogul and condemned NBC Universal for its “political correctness” in dropping Trump from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. [Disclosure: NBC Universal is the parent company of msnbc.]

“I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific, I think he’s brash, I think he speaks the truth,” Cruz told CNN Tuesday.

Few 2016 presidential candidate in the GOP field have denounced Trump’s remarks. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife is from Mexico and whose children are Mexican-American, addressed the issue after a campaign speech in Nevada, notably speaking in Spanish for those directly impacted to hear, while lost in translation for others in the base who might not agree.

“I do not agree with his words,” Bush said in Spanish during a campaign event in Nevada. “They do not represent the values of the Republican Party and they do not represent my values.”

Former New York Gov. George Pataki came out forcefully against Trump, calling his remarks clearly “disrespectful.” He also called on his fellow Republican candidates to denounce Trump’s remarks, naming each candidate by his or her Twitter handle on Wednesday in a series of tweets — but leaving out Cruz.

The silence from the rest of the crowded GOP field has been deafening in the two weeks since Trump entered the race. It’s an interesting development considering the direction that the nation is heading.

A new study out by the Pew Research Center last week found that the U.S. Hispanic population has reached a new high of 55.4 million people. While the rate of the country’s Hispanic growth has started to cool, Latinos now make up more than 17% of the U.S. population.

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The growth marks a dramatic shift in the nation’s demographics with minority groups projected to soon make up the majority of Americans, forever reshaping U.S. politics and political parties’ pathways to the presidency. Read the headlines: Asians and Hispanics are the fastest growing racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Larger shares of minority groups are moving to the suburbs, outpacing white suburban gains. Major cities are being redefined by their growing immigrant communities.

A separate Pew study shows, however, what a sticky situation immigration can be for Republican candidates. Some 63% of Republican voters said they view immigrants as a “burden” for sucking up all of America’s jobs, housing and health care.

For a party trying desperately to shed its disastrous 2012 “self-deportation” platform on immigration, Republicans are still struggling to take a more welcoming tack toward a nation of immigrants. Candidates this election cycle have already seen how much of a balancing act any discussion on immigration can be, as they attempt to appeal to their base without alienating one of the fastest growing groups in the country. If Trump’s devolving controversy is any indication, it’s an issue that will only continue to be a problem for Republicans — unless they change course.

Donald Trump, Latino Voters and Latinos

Why Donald Trump's racist remarks matter

Updated