SANTA FE – Donald Trump’s verbal blast against Gov. Susana Martinez continued to reverberate Wednesday, a day after the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s raucous visit to New Mexico.
High-profile GOP figures, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and former presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich, came to Martinez’s defense after Trump assailed the two-term Republican governor in his rally at the Albuquerque Convention Center and mused about launching a New Mexico gubernatorial run of his own.
Bush called Martinez a “leader and future of our party” in a Wednesday social media post, while Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who has also butted heads with Trump, called Martinez a “great governor” in a chat with reporters in Washington, D.C.
“Look, I’ll just leave it at this: Susana Martinez is a great governor,” Ryan said, according to The Washington Post. “She turned deficits into surpluses. She cut taxes. She’s a friend of mine, and I think she’s a good governor. I will leave it at that.”
Meanwhile, national media outlets were abuzz about the protesting in downtown Albuquerque that turned increasingly violent as the night went on and, some argued, could bolster Trump’s hard-hitting campaign talk. Some conservative talk radio hosts also jumped on the late-night incidents.
Trump himself, in a Wednesday social media post, described the protesters outside the Albuquerque Convention Center as “criminals.”
“The protesters in New Mexico were thugs who were flying the Mexican flag,” Trump tweeted.
University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez acknowledged Wednesday that scenes from the protests – including smashed windows and fights – might “play into Trump’s narratives” about Mexican immigrants, though the ethnic breakdown of those protesting was unclear.
However, Sanchez also said Trump’s attack against Martinez, the nation’s only Hispanic female governor, could hurt Trump’s chances at winning over Latino voters and showed he’s not ready to make nice with the GOP establishment.
“I’ve heard from a lot of moderate Democrats who were thinking about supporting him, and they felt (Trump’s remarks) were a little below the belt,” Sanchez told the Journal.
Martinez, who is chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, has in the past criticized some of Trump’s immigration-related comments and has remained noncommittal about whether she’ll support him in the November election. She did not attend Trump’s campaign rally Tuesday, telling reporters earlier this week that she was “really busy” and focused on New Mexico affairs.
A Martinez spokesman responded to Trump’s criticism that the governor “has to do a better job” by claiming the governor would not be “bullied” into supporting a candidate.
Some of Trump’s tirade appeared to be off base.
At one point, he blasted Martinez for allowing Syrian refugees to be resettled in New Mexico, as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to accept about 10,000 refugees from the war-torn nation.
“Syrian refugees are being relocated in large numbers to New Mexico,” Trump said, prompting loud boos from the crowd of roughly 8,000 people. “If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening.”
However, only four Syrian refugees have been resettled in New Mexico this year, all of them in Albuquerque, according to the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center.
And only 10 Syrian refugees have been relocated in New Mexico – out of 4,421 total Syrian refugees arriving in the country – since Martinez took office in 2011, according to FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan online news site.
Trump also blamed Martinez over an increase in the number of New Mexicans receiving food stamp benefits since 2000. In recent years, the Martinez administration has sought to reimpose work-related requirements on food assistance recipients, an effort that has faced resistance in and out of court. In addition, a state agency has recently faced questions about whether workers falsified food stamp applications.
While high-profile national Republicans came to her defense Wednesday, Martinez also faced some negative fallout.
The Washington Post ran a story with the headline “Once hailed as the GOP’s ideal VP pick, Susana Martinez finds herself clashing with Donald Trump,” while Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairwoman Debra Haaland jumped on Trump’s comments that Martinez is not doing a good job as governor, saying she agreed with him. She also brought up Martinez’s frequent out-of-state travel as RGA chairwoman.
The state Republican Party largely sought to stay out of the fray, although a state GOP spokesman lamented the schism between Trump and Martinez.
“We need all Republicans to unify behind our nominee, and it’s unfortunate that we can’t put these distractions behind us and work together to defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall, who every Republican can agree would be a disastrous president,” state Republican Party spokesman Tucker Keene said.