Trump 2016 worries GOP establishment: Ex-RNC chief

Early 2016 frontrunners

Donald Trump's entrance this week into the GOP presidential race could prove to be a liability for the party, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said Friday.

"I don't think he ultimately wins, but he does change the nature of the conversation. And one of the challenges the GOP field will have will be allowing Donald Trump to dominate what the topics of discussion are," Steele told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Trump drew criticism for certain remarks he made during Tuesday's announcement speech, particularly when he referred to Mexican immigrants as "bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people."

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"Candidates don't want cameras put in their face asking them do you agree with Donald Trump that Mexicans are rapists," said Steele, who does expect the billionaire real estate mogul to settle down as the campaign progresses.

"He's got some good people that he's bringing on board. So he is serious about running this race." But how he pushes the field, Steele added, "that's something I know that a lot of establishment folks are concerned about."

Trump is currently polling well enough to land a spot in the first Republican debate, which will be held Aug. 6 on Fox News Channel. Only the top 10 candidates in an average of national polls will be on stage.

Also on CNBC, former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. said, "When they get to the debates, if people are having to answer questions about comments that are either racially insensitive or [have] religious sensitivity to it from any candidate, particularly Donald Trump with the big personality that he has, I think it probably hurts the field."

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Hillary Clinton stands to gain the most from the Trump candidacy, the Democrat Ford said, "because she's able to then—Democrats at large—are able to contrast themselves with the Republican party."

Ford said he considers former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in a crowded field, which includes three senators—Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz—and possible Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who's expected to formally announce soon.

But Clinton leads all Republicans in most polls, Steele said, highlighting his party's challenges in the 2016 race for the White House.

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—Associated Press contributed to this report.