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Trump's immigration comments open rift in GOP

Business mogul Donald Trump gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City.

Christopher Gregory, Getty Images

Donald Trump's comments in his presidential announcement speech calling Mexican immigrants who come across the border illegally "rapists" has drawn plenty of condemnation from his fellow 2016 candidates, but has also revealed a schism in the GOP. Amid the condemnation, a few Republicans are saying he was right to focus on the negative consequences of illegal immigration even if they didn't endorse the way he did it.

"I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration. The Washington cartel doesn't want to address that. The Washington cartel doesn't believe we need to secure the borders. The Washington cartel supports amnesty and I think amnesty is wrong," fellow presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

While Cruz acknowledged that Trump's way of speaking is "colorful" and "not the way I speak," he said he wouldn't "engage in the media game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans."

"I'm not going to do it. I'm not interested in Republican on Republican violence," he said.

On CBS' "Face the Nation," former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, another member of the 2016 Republican field, said, "While I don't like the verbiage he's used, I like the fact that he is focused on a very important issue for American workers and particularly, legal immigrants in this country."

"People who are coming illegally, obviously, are coming with a bad intent, let's just be honest. They're coming with the clear intent of breaking the law. I don't think we can sugar coat that, but that doesn't mean that everybody who's coming across is a rapist or a murderer or anything else," Santorum said. "I think Donald points to a very important thing, which is we have a serious problem of illegal immigration in this country that is undermining American workers" by flattening out wages and lowering the standard of living for those in the U.S. legally.

Unlike Cruz, however, Santorum also said, "I certainly wouldn't have said those things. I don't agree with his comments, obviously."

Trump has faced intense backlash and seen his business interests take a hit for saying in his announcement speech that Mexico is "sending people that have lots of problems...they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Some of his fellow candidates have been unforgiving: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, called the comments, "not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called his words, "extraordinarily ugly" and "way out of the mainstream of what Republicans think."

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry doubled down on his criticism in an interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, saying he was "offended" by Trump's remarks.

"Hispanics in America and Hispanics in Texas, from the Alamo to Afghanistan, have been extraordinary people, citizens of our country and of our state. They have served nobly. And to paint with that broad a brush that Donald Trump did is -- I mean he's going to have to defend those remarks. I never will," he said.

Trump, unsurprisingly, has not taken the criticism lying down and has used Twitter to fire back at his detractors.

Rick Perry failed at the border. Now he is critical of me. He needs a new pair of glasses to see the crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2015

Jeb Bush will never secure our border or negotiate great trade deals for American workers. Jeb doesn't see & can't solve the problems.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2015

He also wrote that he appreciates the GOP candidates "who remain strong on border security."

For Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, the party hasn't done enough to call out Trump.

"You've got to have that 'Sister Souljah moment' with the party where you have got to be honest and call it what it is," he said on NBC. When asked whether he would aggressively criticize one of his party's own candidates, Steele said he would have been quicker to say Trump was not using the right tone.

"Everyone in the country reacted to this and you didn't, the party didn't, and those who want to be president didn't -- until what? This week. That's a problem," he said, referring to the delayed reaction of some to Trump's words. "It's a problem of authenticity. It is a problem of legitimacy when you're going to go speak to that community. What do you say to them? 'Oh, I'm sorry, we just figured out how we feel about this. It's not the place you want to be.'"

Yet some are still hesitant to weigh in. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is running for president, has spoken benevolently about those who come to the U.S. illegally, still resisted criticizing Trump in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

"Donald Trump needs no help from Mike Huckabee to get publicity. He's doing a really good job of that," he said. "I think what I have been doing is focusing on what my own views of immigration happen to be, rather than weighing in on getting in this battle of, are we with Trump or against Trump?"

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.