Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin represents New York’s first Congressional District, which includes eastern Long Island and consists of most of Suffolk County. Trump carried the county with 72 percent in the GOP primary earlier this year, and Zeldin endorsed Trump in May.
Earlier today on CNN, Zeldin was asked to respond to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s declaration that Trump had uttered a ”textbook definition of a racist comment” in his criticism of Judge Gonzalgo Curiel. Zeldin tried to walk the fine line of denouncing Trump’s comment without withdrawing his endorsement.
“Mr. Trump made a regrettable mistake with his statement,” Zeldin said. “It’s a regrettable legal strategy – he’s trying to win a case. That strategy at this point has led to that particular calculation that has been made, to go after the judge’s heritage. We shouldn’t be going after ethnicity and race with a judge, to assume that they’re unqualified to serve as a judge because of it.”
“But I think that Donald Trump, as far as his character goes, he isn’t making that statement because he feels like he is superior, because, you know, he’s white and the judge is Mexican,” Zeldin continued. “I don’t think he’s making that statement because he feels he’s part of a superior race… Being a little racist, or very racist is not okay, but quite frankly, the agenda that I see, all the micro-targeting to blacks and Hispanics from a policy standpoint, you know, that’s more offensive to me what I’ve seen over the years than this one statement, which I don’t believe is a result of Donald Trump thinking he’s superior because he’s white and not Mexican.”
Don’t blame Zeldin; the guy must have felt like a pinata. Trump’s putting his surrogates into an impossible situation, forcing them to either defend the indefensible or declare his statements indefensible and insist that everyone must vote the indefensible man into the highest office in the land.
During a panel with Zeldin and myself later, Steve Lonegan, a former gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey, called for the delegates to revolt and nominate someone who puts Republicans in a better position to win both the White House and keep House and Senate majorities – a candidate that isn’t Donald Trump.
How many Republican officeholders will find themselves wishing for that option in the coming weeks?