Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk said Tuesday he will not back presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the upcoming election and he hopes other members of the Republican party will do the same.
The announcement comes on the heels of Trump’s statements about the heritage of a Hispanic judge presiding over civil fraud lawsuits against his beleaguered Trump University. In his statement, Kirk called the comments “un-American.”
“As the Presidential campaign progressed, I was hoping the rhetoric would tone down and reflect a campaign that was inclusive, thoughtful and principled,” Kirk said in a statement. “While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party.”
In a March exclusive, Kirk told NBC 5 that he would support Trump if he were the Republican presidential nominee.
"If he is the nominee I certainly would [support Trump]," Kirk said at the time.
But on Tuesday, Kirk said in an interview with NBC that Trump's comments about the judge were "too racist" and when asked if it was the final straw said "it was a big straw for me."
"I think we should send a strong message that racism and bigotry will not be tolerated in our party," he said in the interview.
Illinois Gov. Rauner also turned against Trump Tuesday, saying he's "disgusted by these recent comments."
"And as I've said many times," Rauner continued, "I'm appalled by the rhetoric in the presidential race. Those comments do not reflect the values of the Republican Party. They do not reflect the values of America."
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump said his comments on the judge were "misconstrued" as an attack against people of Mexican heritage, the Associated Press reported.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, Kirk’s opponent in his bid for re-election, slammed the senator after he declined to comment on the billionaire’s controversial statements Monday.
"To my opponent, Senator Kirk, I would simply say, as Dr. King did, there comes a time when silence is betrayal," Duckworth said. "Any politician who stays silent, or hopes to fly under the radar, is complicit in his campaign of hate and division- and deserves to be judged harshly. It may not happen immediately, but I fundamentally believe history will not be kind to those who stood by or shrugged off the shameful candidacy of Donald J. Trump."
On Tuesday, Duckworth's campaign issued a statement responding to the senator's announcement and asking "what took so long?'
"Yesterday, Tammy Duckworth called Senator Kirk's silence in the face of Trump's bigotry a betrayal, and we're standing by our statement," Duckworth's deputy campaign manager Matt McGrath said.
Similarly, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called the move a "politically self-serving stance."
“Mark Kirk and his GOP Senate colleagues stood by while Donald Trump insulted his way to the nomination and took over the Republican party," the committee said in a statement. "Though he belittled women, immigrants, minorities and people with disabilities, it was not until the political fallout of Trump’s divisive politics began to hurt Kirk’s own reelection [sic] that he second-guessed his support. In fact, too often Kirk’s own offensive rhetoric made him almost indistinguishable from Trump. Regardless of whether or not Kirk actually sticks to this latest position on Trump, voters won’t buy his politically-motivated self-serving stance. It’s Trump’s Party and Kirk helped build it."
In the past week, Trump has lodged multiple attacks at U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in East Chicago, Ind. to Mexican-born parents, calling him a “hater of Donald Trump." Many Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have condemned the likely nominee’s incendiary claims.
Trump doubled down on his attacks against Curiel during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.
"I say he's got a bias," Trump said during the interview. "I want to build a wall. I'm going to build a wall."
During the same interview, he also said that, based on his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the county, it was possible that a Muslim judge would also be biased against him.
“It is absolutely essential that we are guided by a commander-in-chief with a responsible and proper temperament, discretion and judgment,” Kirk said. “Our President must be fit to command the most powerful military the world has ever seen, including an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons.”
“After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world,” he added.
In May, Kirk told USA Today that he would be willing to serve as a national security advisor to Trump.
“I had my reservations,” Kirk said. “I’ve been thinking, in an age of Trump where you don’t know the direction of the country, the person you need most is a steady conservative hand like Mark Kirk in the Senate to be advising the president, especially on national security topics…which is my particular expertise after 23 years in the Navy.”
Nevertheless, Kirk called Trump “a river boat gamble” and plans to skip July’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Kirk previously condemned some of Trump's incendiary comments about Mexicans.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," Trump said during the announcement of his campaign last June. "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists."
Kirk publicly disavowed these statements and distanced himself from Trump's foreign policy in a conversation with John Gregory last June.
"In a typical Chicago way, to my Mexican-American friends, I would say, 'Donald Trump callate'- shut up," Kirk said.