That was the message of Republican National Committee senior adviser Sean Spicer when asked to defend Donald Trump's comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel on CNN Friday morning. Here's exactly what Spicer said:
The problem here, of course, is that Trump has, on several occasions, made direct reference to Curiel's Mexican heritage — in those exact words — when discussing why the judge should recuse himself from a case involving Trump University.
Here's what Trump said in late May at a rally in San Diego about Curiel: "What happens is the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine.” That was part of a 11-minute rant that sparked the last two weeks of controversy about Trump's views on race and ethnicity.
Then there's this from CBS News's terrific Sopan Deb:
What Spicer could be referring to — I guess? — is Trump's statement on the Curiel controversy in which he insisted that his comments were "misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage.” But, Trump's statement doesn't change what he actually said. And, as you can tell from the excerpts above, he quite clearly cites Curiel's "heritage" — Curiel was born in Indiana to parents of Mexican descent — while laying out the broader case against the judge.
What's really going on here? Why are longtime, serious Republicans like Spicer trying to play Jedi mind tricks with the public when it comes to Trump?
Simple answer: They have no choice. Spicer is an employee of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is composed of millions of rank-and-file voters and activists. Those people chose Trump to be their nominee. And it wasn't a split decision; it was a clear, affirmative vote for the policies and persona of Trump.
Trump, barring some sort of extraordinary circumstances, is going to represent the Republican Party at the presidential level in the fall. Spicer — and the rest of the GOP — need Trump to not totally tank and bring down their majorities in the House and Senate with him. In order to make that happen, they need to muddy the waters as much as possible on the many controversial things that Trump has said since he became a presidential candidate last year.
That's exactly what Spicer is up to here. Do everything you can to raise doubts about exactly what Trump said and meant with his comments about Curiel. In so doing, hope you defuse the negative power of Trump's words — and preserve the possibility he lives to campaign another day as a viable choice for Republicans.
It's not a fun strategy. It's probably not one that will work — particularly if Trump keeps saying things that Spicer and the rest of the GOP have to keep cleaning up. But it might be the only strategy Spicer and his ilk can employ to keep Trump afloat all the way until Nov. 8.