ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
NPR's Mara Liasson is here in the studio to discuss more about how unusual this turmoil in the Republican Party is. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So on a scale of routine to bizarre, what are we seeing right now?
LIASSON: Well, it's more turmoil courtesy of Donald Trump. And of course we say this every time, but this one feels different. Five weeks from Indiana, the primary when he vanquished the GOP establishment and became the nominee, he's still acting like a sore winner.
LIASSON: And this much-promised pivot to being presidential just hasn't materialized. In fact, he seems to be going in the opposite direction, pursuing these personal feuds with all sorts of enemies but first and foremost Judge Curiel, who, as you just heard, is the American judge trying the Trump University case.
SHAPIRO: Talk about the reaction we're seeing from Republican leaders that we just heard Nina Totenberg describe. Are you surprised by what we're seeing from them?
LIASSON: No. It's very candid and very anguished. You heard Mitch McConnell say, get back on message; talk about the economy and Obamacare. Stop talking about minorities and your enemies, and do it now. And almost as if his message was received at Trump headquarters, Trump - the campaign released a statement just now that says, it is unfortunate that my comments have been misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage. I am friends with them and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent.
Then he goes on to say the American justice system relies on fair, impartial judges. I don't feel that one's heritage makes them incapable of being impartial, which is exactly the opposite of what he's been saying. But he says, but based on the rulings that I've received in this case, I don't feel judge Curiel is being fair.
So sounds like he's trying to walk it back. But in the meantime, you had this avalanche of Republican criticism - unprecedented spectacle of people criticizing their own party's nominee. So far, one Republican - Senate incumbent up for reelection Mark Kirk of Illinois - has un-endorsed Trump. He's the only one.
SHAPIRO: You say it's unprecedented for the leaders of the party to criticize their nominee this blatantly, so why is this happening?
LIASSON: Well, you know, this is not about policy. This isn't about banning Muslims, deporting 11 million people or building a wall. Those policies have support, particularly inside the Republican Party. This is about what Paul Ryan called the textbook definition of racism, saying, at least until he seems to be walking it back, that a Mexican judge couldn't be fair and that a Muslim judge probably can't be fair to him either.
You know, it's interesting because previously, Trump has said that lots of legal immigrants support his policies on immigration. Now he seems to be saying - or at least until he maybe walked it back - that because of the things he himself has said about Mexicans and Muslims, he assumes that any Mexican or Muslim judge would be against him. He's almost conceding the point his opponents make that he has engendered racial divisions.
SHAPIRO: Mara, Donald Trump created plenty of controversy during the primary which did not seem to hurt him much in the polls. Now that we're nearing a general election, do you expect that to change?
LIASSON: Well, we don't know yet. We won't know until next week when we'll get a whole bunch of new polls. We do know that Donald Trump hasn't tweeted for the last 16 hours, which is the second time he's gone silent. The first time was right after Hillary Clinton's lacerating speech against him on Thursday. We know that so far he hasn't paid a price. Republicans I've talked to today say they're not seeing any slippage in his polling, at least in Senate battleground states.
But what we do know is that he's had a very hard time adjusting to being a general election candidate when you're in a much, much brighter spotlight. He seems to have totally abandoned his crisp, clear message, make American great again. He didn't have to respond to the questions about his donations to veterans groups the way he did. These were all self-inflicted wounds.
He also seems to have made very little effort to ramp up his campaign for the general election. He's still a one-man band. We have from our own Sarah McCammon reporting about the conference call where Trump himself essentially undercut his own campaign staff who were trying to keep a lid on the Judge Curiel controversy.
We also know that he turns 70 next week. People usually don't change when things that have been working for them for their whole lives - he doesn't seem any reason to change. Maybe the statement that he released today means that he will.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks as always.
LIASSON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.