For someone who looks like a leather bag covered in hay, Donald Trump has been causing a remarkable stir in the Republican presidential primary. His popularity is startling, with a recent Fox News survey showing Trump trailing only Jeb Bush in the GOP's 2016 race. And while the numbers probably don't mean much at this point, they've come in at the same time that Trump has been saying and doing some crazy shit—specifically, waging a bizarre feud with the nation of Mexico.
It all started at Trump's campaign launch, when he said that undocumented Mexican immigrants were "bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people." Hispanics were, understandably, upset by the remarks, and took it out on Trump's Miss USA pageant. The co-hosts of the event, Roselyn Sanchez and Cristian de la Fuente, resigned their jobs in protest; Colombian singer J Balvin said he would no longer perform at the pageant, citing Trump's "hateful political rhetoric"; even Ricky Martin, who was born in Puerto Rico, got in on the action, attacking Trump on Twitter for having "much hatred and ignorance" in his heart. Eventually, Spanish-language TV network Univision got the message, and announced it would no longer air the Miss USA telecast.
In response, Trump tweeted:
Then, he sent a lunatic letter to Univision chief Randy Falco that sets a new standard for petty behavior and litigious grandstanding.
"Please be advised that under no circumstances is any officer or representative of Univision allowed to use Trump National Doral, Miami — its golf courses or any of its facilities," he wrote. He went on to demand that Univision close a gate that's being built between the Trump and Univision properties, and concludes by noting that, if he becomes president, the days of favorable trade deals for the Mexican government will be over. ( Read the whole thing—it's insane.)
Trump didn't stop there. Earlier this week, he announced he is filing a $500 million lawsuit against the network, suggesting that Univision is breaching its contract by pulling out of its Miss USA telecast. After NBC Universal—which has aired Trump's Apprentice franchise for years—announced it would not air the pageant either, Trump claimed that it was he who ended the relationship, posting a letter to Instagram that declared, "NBC is weak, and like everyone else is trying to be politically correct—that is why our country is in serious trouble." (He also took shots at Brian Williams, because why leave bridges unburned?)
Still, the backlash hasn't died down. Earlier this week, Grupo Televisa SAB, the world's largest Spanish-language media company, announced it was also cutting ties with Trump, saying that he "has offended the entire population of Mexico." On Wednesday, Macy's announced it would pull all of Trump's merchandise from its stores.
In the face of political humiliation and multimillion-dollar business losses, a reasonable person could be expected to backtrack, perhaps even apologize for overly generalizing the criminal tendencies of 122 million Mexicans. But Donald Trump doesn't placate, and he certainly doesn't back down. Because, as he told Fox News, "Donald Trump can't be silenced."
None of this bodes well for Trump or his empire. But Trump isn't just repping Trump anymore: He's a Republican candidate for president, which means he's rubbing off on his party as well. And at this point, Trump is polling well enough to make it on stage at the party's first primary debates, giving him a party-sanctioned stage from which to wage his feud with Mexico.
As former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer explained to Politico. "Donald Trump is like watching a roadside accident. Everybody pulls over to see the mess. And Trump thinks that's entertainment. But running for president is serious. And the risk for the party is he tarnishes everybody."
All this is particularly problematic because Republicans have been trying very hard to win over Hispanic voters. Until Trump burst onto the 2016 scene, things were going mostly as planned: Two of the Republican candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are Latino, and Jeb Bush once accidentally claimed to be. (He is, in reality, married to a woman from Mexico.) For the first time this century, the party looked like it could make substantive inroads with the Hispanic community.
It's not just about these candidates. After Mitt Romney's collapse in 2012, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus started aggressively reaching out to Latinos, realizing that the party desperately needed to expand its constituency beyond white men over age 45 if it ever wanted to win another presidential election. He laid this out in a 2013 piece for the National Review called "Engaging with Hispanics":
"I want to take this moment to say a word to my fellow Republicans, including candidates and officeholders at every level, from the courthouse to Capitol Hill: If you're not engaging with the Hispanic community, you better get to work."
Now, Trump is undermining all of that, not just with his casual racism—at an appearance in Baltimore last week he suggested that black youths have "no spirit"—but by actively waging a fake war against the country of Mexico. The longer Trump stays in the race, the harder it could be for whichever Republican gets saddled with the party's nomination to repair the damage he caused.
Whether Republicans want to repair it, though, is a bigger question. Cruz, for one, has come to Trump's defense: "I like Donald Trump. I think he's terrific, I think he's brash, I think he speaks the truth," Cruz told Fox News. "I don't think you should apologize for speaking out against the problem that is illegal immigration. I recognize that the PC world, the mainstream media, they don't want to admit it, but the American people are fed up."
Follow Kevin Lincoln on Twitter.