RICHMOND — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s remarks about the “Mexican” judge presiding over a fraud case against him have drawn condemnation from many Republicans.
Corey A. Stewart is not among them.
Stewart, the chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign and a GOP contender for Virginia governor in 2017, turned to Facebook to offer Trump his full-throated support.
When Trump travels to Richmond on Friday for an evening rally at the Richmond Coliseum, Stewart will welcome him to the commonwealth. Stewart has warned that if there are any illegal immigrants protesting at the Richmond event, “we’re going to kick their asses out of the country.”
Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, recently mused that “when he is president and I am governor, you’re going to see one helluva tag team in Virginia, and we’re finally going to remove illegal immigrants,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Trump has faced a backlash over his comments about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing a fraud case against the defunct Trump University. Trump has contended that Curiel, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, is biased against him because of Trump’s vow to crack down on illegal immigration and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Numerous Republican leaders have expressed dismay over Trump’s tirade, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) calling it “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
But Stewart told The Washington Post on Thursday that he sides with Trump. And like the Trump campaign, he criticized Curiel for supposed membership in the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group.
But Curiel is not a member of the National Council of La Raza. He belongs to the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, an unrelated professional group for Latino lawyers.
Stewart refuses to see the distinction.
“La Raza is a sleazy organization that works to keep criminal illegal immigrants in our neighborhoods,” Stewart wrote on Facebook. “Don’t blame Trump at all for not wanting this judge, who is a member of this disreputable organization, from presiding over his case. He could never be impartial.”
Most of Virginia’s GOP office holders have accepted the presumptive GOP presidential nominee grudgingly, if at all. Stewart is all in. When Trump comes to Richmond, Stewart will introduce him.
“I’ll be the one saying, ‘The next president of the United States, Donald Trump!’ ” Stewart said.
Stewart’s enthusiastic support for Trump has drawn the ire of Democrats and could complicate his bid to become governor.
“Corey Stewart’s inflammatory words on social media show us that extreme, divisive politics are never far from our own back yard, and we have to make our voices heard in swift condemnation,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington).
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) called Stewart’s comments “out of line” and said he’s trying to distinguish himself from two Republican rivals in the 2017 governor’s race, political strategist Ed Gillespie and Rep. Rob Wittman.
“I think he’s trying to become the leader of the Republican Party here. I think he’s trying to do this to ramp up his gubernatorial campaign,” McAuliffe said Thursday after a bill signing in Richmond. “It’s unfortunate, but he’s in a three-way primary. I think he’s trying to bust out.”
But Stewart thinks Virginians who are fed up with establishment politics will be drawn to Trump — and to his own campaign.
Stewart gained national attention in 2007 when he led Prince William County to adopt one of the harshest policies of any municipality toward illegal immigrants. At his urging, Prince William authorized police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they detained. After a public uproar, the county watered down the policy so that an immigration check would be done only after an arrest.
Stewart, who said his crackdown was meant to root out illegality, not diversity, is proud of the effort. “Hey, Prince William County was Arizona before Arizona was Arizona,” he said, taking credit for inspiring the hard-line approach later adopted in that Southwestern border state.
Stewart is already trying to use the immigration issue against Gillespie, who was a top adviser to President George W. Bush.
“Next time you see Ed Gillespie, ask him why he allowed the release of criminal illegal aliens when he was Chief Counsel in the Bush White House,” Stewart wrote on Facebook. “Instead of deporting illegals who committed crimes, the Bush White House released them. 30% then committed more crimes — including rape, child molestation and attempted murder. The weak Republican establishment is afraid of ‘offending’ illegal immigrants and won’t protect our families.”
Gillespie, whose title in the Bush White House was counselor, has reacted coolly to Trump, saying little more than that he would vote for the Republican standard-bearer.
“Chairman Stewart may think such reckless and baseless attacks against other Republicans will help his own personal interests, but Ed believes we should work together as Republicans to win critical elections this year and next,” said Chris Leavitt, executive director of Gillespie’s political action committee, Let’s Grow, Virginia!
Leavitt declined to say what Gillespie thought of Trump’s comments about the judge.
More recently, Trump’s campaign has said that he questioned Curiel’s impartiality not because of the judge’s heritage but because of his membership in “La Raza.”
Stewart referred questions about the judge’s affiliation to the Trump campaign.
“It’s my understanding it’s La Raza,” he said in an interview Thursday with The Post, meaning the advocacy group, not the San Diego lawyers association. “I’ve had all kind of dealings with them. Bad ones. Talk to the campaign.”
Stewart said he is more focused on Trump’s broader point, that illegal immigration is a problem that conventional politicians on both sides of the aisle have failed to stop.
“I’m a lot more in tune with the campaign’s position on illegal immigration,” he said. “We’ve got so many other serious issues. The left is all concerned about whether Trump’s comments offended somebody, but meanwhile, we’ve got all these potential problems in the country.”