Good news and bad news for Trump here. Despite the heavy breathing on Capitol Hill and within the righty commentariat over the “Mexican” judge, a heavy majority of Republican voters are on his side when asked if what he said was racist. A smaller number are on his side when asked if his complaints about a conflict of interest by Curiel were “wrong” but they’re still in his corner on balance, 43/39. If you’re hoping that the judge kerfuffle is a magic bullet to turn Republicans against Trump in hopes of ousting him at the convention, sober up.
The bad news is that Republicans are the only demographic to side with him on those two questions. Every other group by gender, race, age, party, region, etc, has at least a plurality who think his complaints were both wrong and racist. To put that another way, fully 51 percent of adults think the new Republican nominee just took a racist shot at a federal judge. He did himself no favors in November with the Democrats and independents he’s hoping to win away from Hillary.
Note the phrasing of the question. Trump fans spent the last week insisting that Curiel’s bias stemmed from his affiliation with the “La Raza” Latino lawyers’ association, not from the mere fact of his ethnicity, even though the lawyers’ association has always been a minor note in Trump’s own ramblings about the “Mexican” judge and the wall. YouGov’s question didn’t mention the “La Raza” thing; if it had, suggesting that Curiel’s bias was ideological rather than ethnic, the numbers might have been more favorable to Trump. On the other hand, a plurality of Republicans were willing to defend him even when the question is framed this way, with 65 percent insisting that Trump’s comments aren’t racist. By comparison, the overall public splits 51/32 in saying they were racist with Democrats at 81/10 and indies at 44/32. Hispanics split 69/15. That’s fertile attack-ad soil for Democrats this fall, especially now that they’ve got the sitting Republican Speaker of the House on video describing Trump’s comments as textbook racism.
YouGov had an interesting idea to tease out what’s driving opinion on this. They followed up on the Trump questions by asking whether a Muslim-American judge born in the U.S. could be fair in a terrorism trial. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Trump supporter, coincidentally offered a hypothetical along those same lines in an interview with Sean Hannity today:
— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) June 8, 2016
YouGov’s version of the same question didn’t mention anything about Iraqi descent or a hero soldier being on trial instead of terrorists but they’re trying to test the same reaction. Can some basic element of one’s identity — race, sex, ethnicity, religion — suffice to create a presumption of judicial bias in cases involving certain defendants? The answer under U.S. law is “hell no,” that we trust the judge to lay aside his personal feelings, but that’s not the answer some Americans give when asked about a Muslim judge in a terror case:
The balance of opinion is against Republicans again but this time there’s enough hesitation to hold the numbers under 50 percent. The catch with Hunter’s example and YouGov’s hypothetical is that religion is ideological, not inborn, and therefore it’s arguably more like asking whether Judge Curiel’s “La Raza” affiliation is disqualifying rather than whether his race is. That’s simplistic, though: Most people practice the same faith as adults as the one they were born into as children. What’s really being tested in the “Muslim judge” examples is whether you believe that Muslims are necessarily so morally conflicted about terrorism that they can’t set aside their biases in cases where the defendant has some strong relationship, pro or con, with Islamic terrorism. It’s a religious test for office specific to Muslims. I assume that Hunter, a veteran, also thinks Muslim-Americans should be disqualified from serving in the military, at least in theaters where the enemy is jihadist. If a Muslim-American is too hopelessly compromised to render a fair verdict with an Iraq veteran on trial, he’s got to be too compromised to carry an M16, no?
One other interesting bias finding. When YouGov asked whether a white judge could administer a fair trial to a white cop accused of shooting an unarmed black suspect, heavy majorities in every group said yes — except one.
It’s only a third of black adults, not a majority, who insist that the judge would be biased with a plurality insisting they’re not sure, but there’s a reminder that Trump’s suspicions about identity affecting one’s judgment isn’t exclusive to the right. And how could it be? Leftists have been preaching it for years. Although, having said that, I’m obliged to note that Democrats split 70/13 on whether the white judge could be fair. They’re a lot more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, in fact, than Republicans are when asked whether a black judge could offer a fair trial to a white cop accused of shooting an unarmed black suspect. GOPers split 57/21 on that, a balance of +36 compared to the +57 Democratic confidence in the white judge. Again, why would you want to oust Trump at the convention? It really is his party now.