Donald Trump has should focus on policy issues rather than doubling down on his own controversial statements, Sen. Dan Sullivan said Wednesday, but it took more time — and grilling from the "Morning Joe" show's co-hosts — for him to finally label Trump's complaints about U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel's Mexican heritage as "racist."
"When Donald Trump makes statements we don't agree with, we speak out," the Alaska Republican told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.
"I'm certainly one to be critical. Certainly the comments were completely wrong, the latest ones."
And Trump has "two paths," said Sullivan, either to continue "these self-inflicted wounds" or to pivot to focus on "questions Americans care about."
"The number one issue, and we've talked about it on your show, they care about is the economy," said Sullivan. "We have had a lost decade of economic growth under President [Barack] Obama.
"Last week you saw this jobs report came out. Another anemic report on the economy, almost half a million Americans quit looking for jobs. This is the thing Americans want to talk about. This is the opportunity he has."
And if Trump shifts focus, "we're going to have what we should have, which is a real presidential debate on important policies that the American people actually care about," Sullivan continued
Show co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, though, stuck to the topic of Trump's comments on Curiel, where he has said he has concerns about the ability of the judge who is presiding over the lawsuit against Trump and his namesake Trump University to treat him fairly because of his Mexican heritage.
First Scarborough, then Brezinski, repeatedly asked Sullivan if he thinks the comments were "racist."
Sullivan said that he is "certainly not one who has disregarded the comments," and when
Scarborough asked him again, he relied that the statements "were equating ethnicity with bias, which goes against everything we believe in in America."
And after Scarborough asked again Sullivan said, "I'll let you guys label it."
"I'll label it; I think it was racist," Scarborough replied. "What about you?"
"I think the statement was clearly wrong and I called for him to retract it," Sullivan told him. "Again, Joe, what we need to have is a debate."
"That's like saying 'look at the bird. Don't look at this, look at the bird,'" Brzezinski shot back. "I'm not asking you to look at the bird. I'm asking you is he fit to be president if he makes a statement like this and doesn't retract it."
And still, Sullivan replied "the American people are going to decide on is he fit to be president in the next several months," and noted that Hillary Clinton has been "talking about we have policies that will put a lot of coal miners out of work."
"You've got to be kidding me," Brezenski told him.
Finally, when NBC's Wilile Geist was given the opportunity to ask Sullivan if he believed Trump's statements were racist, the senator conceded: "I think it's a racist statement and he should retract it."
But still, Sullivan said he is looking to support Trump as the nominee, he expects Trump will start to lose support "if he continues these self-inflicted wounds."
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