ST. LOUIS — There was a popular type of tweet on Friday evening as Republicans recoiled and Democrats danced at the latest Trump controversy. It was about Ted Cruz: If only he had waited two weeks, he would have had the moral authority and indisputable backbone to explain that he opposed Trump for this exact reason and offer a way forward for the GOP.
That didn’t happen.
None of this was ever a problem for Ana Navarro, CNN’s Republican political commentator, who has taken aim at Trump from day one. As many on the Republican side are having a worse and worse cycle as the election wears on — and wears on Americans — Navarro is getting more attention and more plaudits.
She can turn a phrase ("The chupacabra is more popular with Hispanic voters than Donald Trump is," she has said on air). But what separates Navarro as Republicans now huddle, privately stew, denounce, and try to figure out how to put back together the mess in front of them, is the emotion — the disgust — she shows on air.
Navarro told BuzzFeed News people are used to seeing scripted, robotic partisan surrogates on TV, all spewing the same talking points and "trying to defend crazy shit that cannot be defended."
"This election, while absolutely horrific for me in so many ways, has also been strangely liberating," she said. "I am not supporting any candidate and I am not under the thumb of any campaign or party. I don't get the daily guidance or called to task if I don't defend something or other. I am unplugged, unchained, and unmuzzled."
Her latest viral turn came on the heels of a 2005 video that showed Trump crudely talking about women, including language that suggests he forced himself on women to kiss them. “I don't even wait,” Trump gloated, before adding he can just “grab them by the pussy.”
On air, Navarro was apoplectic, her voice rising, as she repeatedly used the word “pussy” to drive the point home, and undoubtedly get the undivided attention of viewers who might have the TV on in the background.
“Will you please stop saying that word? My daughter is listening," said Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes.
Navarro lost it.
"Don't tell me you're offended when I say 'pussy,' but you're not offended when Donald Trump says it. I'm not running for president, he is," Navarro shot back.
It was great TV. And the clip shot around Twitter just a couple minutes after the exchange. CNN anchor Don Lemon said he was going to commercial and when they returned, Navarro was gone. Lemon said she had to leave and Navarro explained on Twitter that she had been on air seven hours and was tired.
But Navarro isn’t new to the game, she’s just playing it better than almost any other Republican or commentator.
A longtime Republican strategist, her friendship with Jeb Bush was the source of tension within his shortlived campaign because she was seen by the media as speaking for the campaign.
But from the day Trump infamously hit Mexicans and immigrants, Navarro was there to fight him. She hit her stride when she slammed him with utter indignation over his attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the Mexican-American judge from Indiana ruling on the Trump University case, who Trump said could not do his job because he was “Mexican.”
"How dare he question a judge's responsibility, a judge's adherence to the Constitution, because he is of Mexican descent? This man was born in East Chicago. He is an American citizen. He is just as American as Donald Trump," she said.
"Mexican-Americans bleed, just as any other American, when they go to war. They bled just as any other American on 9/11. They fight for America. They are Americans. And what he is doing is disgusting. I am livid about it, and if this is his strategy to win over Hispanics, he's got a hell of a wake-up call coming to him come November," she concluded.
Her clips were widely shared on Khizr Khan, the gold star father of a son killed in Iraq, who Trump attacked for days, and as a woman and Latina she was there to check him on Alicia Machado, the '90s beauty queen who Trump shamed over her weight.
She now gives speeches seemingly daily, to Latino groups, to Republicans, journalists, and others — her brand of "say-it-like-it-is truth-telling" and willingness to drop in a few jokes and expletives entertaining audiences unentertained by the election. In private Republican groups, she is similarly scathing. She drew applause at Mitt Romney's Utah donor gathering for laying into Trump supporter Anthony Scaramucci, a person present said.
She doesn’t like Hillary Clinton, and has criticized her for leaning too much on being a woman candidate. But in an election that at times seems to have snuffed out the prospect of anything bipartisan happening ever again, Navarro is keeping its ember alive. It's not unusual to see immigration activists, very liberal Democrats, and women and Latinas of all stripes lauding Navarro on Facebook and Twitter.
After Navarro tore into Hughes, a Latina who works for a Democratic donor wrote on Facebook that "CNN should give Ana a raise given that she's the only one keeping it real in there."
The Latina publisher of LatinHeat.com wrote on Facebook in capital letters that she loved Navarro, adding, "Unlike some gutless commentators (Latino and otherwise) she has the guts to take a stand and to say it loud and repeat it — TRUMP is a racist, a misogynist. How hard it is to just speak up about it? It takes a woman."
Navarro said that as a political refugee from Nicaragua, who has seen the loss of her beloved brother when he was 38 years old as well as friends, she tries to enjoy life and live passionately, but here too Trump insulted her.
"I am the sister of a disabled man and have lived through the pain of seeing him mocked," she said. "He compared losing a son to the 'sacrifice' of building a building. I saw my parents bury my brother. No, it is not comparable."
Navarro says that she's learned to ignore the Twitter trolls but at the beginning they hurt. She battled weight issues her whole life, she said, so being called a "Mexican hippopotamus" or something similar was mortifying.
"People who liked me would tweet me about my sexy Latina accent. People who hated me would tweet me about my irritating Mexican accent," she added. "Hell, I didn't even know I had an accent. Everybody in Miami talks like me."
While it's clear that Navarro takes the prospect of a Trump presidency deadly seriously, she's also having fun.
Before Trump's damaging tape was released, Navarro was at her usual on Facebook, telling her friends that she had worked an 18-hour work day, "with every bone in her body complaining," but rather than go to sleep she thought she would go across the street for oysters and wine. "Hell, you only live once!" she wrote, as friends thanked her for her work.
But on Saturday morning, after the Trump tape was released, she was back at it, joining other Republicans, with a new pronouncement.
Trump should step aside, and Mike Pence should be the nominee, she said.
"The reason you can't recover from this is because this is consistent behavior from Donald Trump," she said, running down his attacks on Rosie O'Donnell, Alicia Machado, Megyn Kelly, and others.
"It is not enough for Republican leadership to disavow his comments, to condemn his words, it is time to condemn the man. It is time to ask him to step down. It is time to tell America he does not represent Republican values. He is a pig, he is vile," she thundered.
None of the other five people on the CNN panel interrupted her.
Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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