After Trump Speech, Signs of a Latino Adviser Exodus
Donald Trump alienated members of his own Hispanic leadership council by ignoring their advice and instead choosing a hardline approach to immigration, which he reiterated during a speech Wednesday in Phoenix. The decision not only narrows the GOP nominee’s path to victory in November but also threatens to infringe the party's efforts to expand its appeal over the long term.
Trump’s immigration speech signals he is charting a course to the White House that relies heavily on a loyal but narrow following and requires increased turnout among white voters. Moreover, it goes against the counsel of Republican campaign experts, polling data trends, and demographic arithmetic.
GOP strategists said that while several pieces of the policy outline may jibe with conservative thought, the candidate’s harsh tone and rhetoric, specifically on the issue of deportation, figures to repel not only Latino voters but also moderate Republicans and independents he will need to win the White House.
“If self-deportation threw Mitt Romney’s Hispanic support from 44 percent down to 27 percent in 2012, Lord only knows what Trump’s ‘forced deportation’ will do to his Hispanic vote in 2016,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster.
“He has backed himself into a corner where he needs to get 65 to 70 percent of the white vote in order to win the majority of the popular vote,” Ayres said, alluding to a path that would take him through Rust Belt and Midwestern states, as other more diverse battlegrounds like Colorado and Virginia now lean more Democratic. “And that is going to be exceedingly difficult as long as he continues to split evenly the white women vote.”
Trump’s chosen path is already driving away some of his Latino advisers, several of whom either quit or were thinking about quitting the campaign on Thursday. In an August meeting with the nominee and in advance of his visit with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, some members of the council prepared an outline of principles and talking points on the issue of immigration, encouraging him to take a more compassionate and humane approach to deportation. They were thrilled with his performance in Mexico City, during which he took a statesman-like approach to the issue. Then the mood changed once he crossed back over the border for his Phoenix speech.
“He was moving toward a reasonable, pro-business and compassionate immigration plan. Tonight he was not a Republican but a populist, modern-day Father Coughlin who demonized immigrants,” wrote Jacob Monty, a Houston-based attorney and now former member of Trump’s Hispanic council. “He must want to lose. He can do that without me.”
Texas Pastor Ramiro Pena also quit the board, telling the campaign that he believed Trump’s speech cost him the election and that the Hispanic council was nothing more than a scam, according to a Politico report. Other Hispanic leaders took to the airwaves on Thursday to voice their disappointment and rescind their endorsements. “We felt a little bit misled,” Alfonso Aguilar of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, told CNN, referring to Trump’s language about deporting undocumented immigrants who have not committed a crime.
“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump said in Phoenix. "You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country. They will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for re-entry.”
The consensus among prominent Hispanic supporters of Trump was that the candidate had expressed to them his support for a more compassionate approach for non-criminals, but disregarded it when he spoke Wednesday night.
Some, though, opted to stay on board and continue their support. Leaving would forfeit “an opportunity to keep talking” and shape Trump’s policy to one “we believe is more humane,” Florida Pastor Alberto Delgado told CNN.
On Thursday, however, Trump appeared unfazed, telling Laura Ingraham in a radio interview that his approach to deportation is a softening. “We do it in a very humane way,” he said.
In fact, Trump’s stance on deportation is at odds with that of most voters. A Fox News poll this week showed 77 percent support some system of legalization for undocumented immigrants, while just 19 percent advocate for deportation.
“The long-term implications will be severe, because you have a new generation of young Latinos who are engaged in the process for the first time, and they have such a dark perception of Republicans based on the nominee,” said California-based strategist Leslie Sanchez. “We have to dissolve the false stereotypes again about the GOP and move aggressively forward with an inclusive party that cares about all Americans and is not tone-deaf.”
Bettina Inclan, former director of Hispanic outreach for the RNC, said Trump’s tone and rhetoric when speaking about immigrants overshadows any policy prescriptions he espouses as well as his successful meeting in Mexico City.
“This was not a speech that helped Trump expand his dwindling base and win and influence undecided voters,” Inclan wrote. “Trump leaves people like me, a Latina Republican, who want to expand the GOP base and win national elections, with little to work with.”
Hillary Clinton is seizing on Trump’s immigration approach as a way to energize the Democratic base and also to perhaps appeal to independents. The campaign announced a six-figure ad buy in the red state of Arizona, where 22 percent of eligible voters are Hispanic, according to Pew.
Republican strategists point to George W. Bush garnering 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 as a base line, but GOP nominees have moved farther from it in subsequent elections. The RNC prioritized the Hispanic vote in its 2012 autopsy report, many tenets of which Trump has disregarded. And some Republican strategists fear Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants might set the party back for several cycles.
“Donald Trump is doing nationally what Pete Wilson did to California,” said GOP strategist Al Cardenas, referring to the Republican governor’s anti-immigration push in 1994.
“Is it reversible? We haven't won California since the ’90s,” said Cardenas, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union. “Has Donald Trump done that for the party nationally? I hope not because if he has, it will be a long time before we occupy the White House again.”