WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking Republican, on Tuesday called Donald J. Trump’s remarks about a Latino judge “racist,” an extraordinary indictment that generated a fresh wave of criticism and panic from other Republicans. By the end of the day, Mr. Trump was forced into a rare moment of damage control and said that his words had been “misconstrued.”
Mr. Trump, who said last week that a Mexican-American judge in a case involving Trump University was biased against him because of his heritage, issued a statement Tuesday saying, “I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial.” He added that he was simply questioning whether he was receiving a fair trial, but he did not apologize for his remarks, something many Republicans had urged him to do.
Mr. Ryan said Mr. Trump’s criticism of the judge, Gonzalo P. Curiel of United States District Court, was “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” But Mr. Ryan also reiterated his support for Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
“I disavow these comments — I regret those comments that he made,” Mr. Ryan said. “I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable. But do I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
He added: “I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him than with her.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill faced an increasingly difficult task — giving Mr. Trump their support while still keeping their distance from his inflammatory language. While many Republicans, like Mr. Ryan, continued to affirm their support for Mr. Trump, others appeared ready to abandon him, throwing the once stolid party further into disarray.
“I cannot and will not support my party’s nominee for president,” said Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, becoming the first Republican senator running for re-election to break with Mr. Trump. “After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world” or to control the nation’s nuclear arsenal.