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Paul Ryan is playing right into Donald Trump’s master plan

Here we go again.

Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump has done it this time. His attacks on the Mexican heritage of federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel clearly show that Trump's campaign is off the rails. The proof is that even prominent Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker Newt Gingrich have disavowed themselves from Trump's attacks on the judge. Surely, this is the beginning of the Trump campaign's self-destruction!

Not so fast my friends.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (l) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (r).
Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (l) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (r).

Let me rewrite the opening paragraph to represent the true Trump strategy here, one I don't endorse but still recognize for what it is:

Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump has done it again. His attacks on the Mexican heritage of federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel clearly show that Trump's campaign is still following its uncharted but calculated path. The proof is that even prominent Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and former Speaker Newt Gingrich have disavowed themselves from Trump's attacks on the judge. Surely this is the continuation of the Trump campaign's brash efforts to separate itself from the Republican Party — not so much in reality, but in voter perception.

Trump not only doesn't need the supposed Republican ideological base, he needs to run away from it regularly to distance himself from a losing and shrinking brand. Trump needs to run this campaign almost as if he's a third-party candidate. I say "almost," because he still needs the Republican National Committee money and ground game and whatever percentage of the population that will vote for the GOP nominee no matter who he or she is.

There are also a lot of people in America who feel that they've lost a case in court because they were treated unfairly by a judge or someone else in the legal system. Almost every person I know who is going through a divorce and involved in a child-custody cases feels that way. And as Dilbert creator and blogger Scott Adams pointed out, it's more likely that Trump knows he's going to lose the Trump University case before Judge Curiel and he's simply building a persuasive case in many of our minds that perhaps he will lose unfairly. Lots of Americans will identify with that.

OK, OK, but that still doesn't answer the less polite question of who out there would actually be swayed to vote for Trump, not just based on his distance from the establishment Republican Party, but on perceived racism or racist comments? Here's the impolite, but true answer: There's no denying that Trump has racist supporters. Anyone who's criticized him publicly finds that out the hard way either in person or on social media. Trump is trying to court and greatly expand the white vote, which has been shrinking in the last few elections. Clearly and sadly, this is one way to do it.

But Trump's comments also speak to those non-racists who don't like supposedly harmless liberal identity politics, like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor calling herself a "wise Latina," or Hillary Clinton talking about how men are often stupid. Those kinds of comments and strategies can produce not-so-harmless responses and reactions. Are there enough potential voters out there who react that way to help Trump? The primary-election results say "yes."

If you don't condone the divisive and racially-charged comments by Donald Trump about Judge Curiel, it probably speaks well of your soul. But it won't speak well of your observational skills if you don't see how it's really all part of what's been a winning strategy for Trump so far. Don't expect this Judge Curiel controversy to hurt Trump in the polls for more than a week or two, if that. It's really all part of the plan.


Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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