“Last week, you could tell, there was the real possibility of a pivot. I think there was a big fight within the campaign, and I think the restrictionist forces won.”
Those words come from Alfonso Aguilar, a leading Latino conservative. Until yesterday, Aguilar was a prominent surrogate for Trump. But Trump delivered a hardline speech on immigration last night, and now top Latino supporters like Aguilar are bolting.
Aguilar, who has been in regular touch with members of the National Hispanic Advisory Committee for Trump, a group formed by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, tells me that he expects as many as a half a dozen members of the Committee to step down or otherwise withdraw their support.
The speech and fallout, said Aguilar, the head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, are “a debacle for the Trump campaign.”
Latino conservatives thought there was a real chance that Trump might genuinely moderate on the issue, Aguilar said, perhaps by declaring himself open to some form of expedited path to legal status for those undocumented immigrants who leave the country and return. But in his speech last night, Trump flatly ruled out any such expedited pathway.
To Latino conservatives, there is no doubt about the true intentions of Trump’s speech, even though there are still a few observers here and there who continue to suggest that he somehow softened his approach yesterday. Trump stopped using the words “deportation force,” but he nonetheless made it absolutely clear that maximum deportations and stepped up enforcement are his guiding priorities, and also left no doubt that there simply isn’t any meaningful path to assimilation in Trump’s vision.
“He means, We’re gonna start detaining people, left and right,” Aguilar said, adding that Trump’s vision was akin to “putting ICE on steroids” and creating “a deportation regime with close collaboration with state and local police.” Aguilar added, however, that he would not be supporting Hillary Clinton.
Massey Villarreal, a Texas-based businessman who was also a member of the Trump advisory committee, has pulled his support, too. “He will not be supporting Trump, and he will not be supporting Clinton,” Villarreal’s assistant told me. He told NBC Latino that Trump’s speech was “awful.”
Still another member of the Trump advisory committee, Jacob Monty, a Texas-based lawyer, longtime Republican, and third-generation Mexican American, told my Post colleagues Aaron Blake and Jenna Johnson that he had attended a meeting with Trump at which he seemed reasonable on immigration. But after Trump’s speech, he feels that he was misled, and has now decided he’s done:
“The speech was just an utter disappointment,” Monty said in an interview on Thursday….“We were out there defending him. And then to be just lied to like that — it doesn’t feel good. It’s not okay.”
Politico reports that another member of Trump’s advisory council, Ramiro Pena, a pastor, has also pulled out:
“I am so sorry but I believe Mr. Trump lost the election tonight,” said Pena, a pastor at Waco’s Christ the King Church. “The ‘National Hispanic Advisory Council’ seems to be simply for optics and I do not have the time or energy for a scam.”
In his interview with me, Aguilar suggested that this really is the stuff of nightmares for the Republican National Committee. As you’ll recall, the RNC put out that autopsy after the 2012 election, concluding that the party must broaden its appeal by supporting immigration reform and taking genuine steps to be more welcoming to Latino immigrants. Surrogates such as these are central to these types of outreach efforts, because they embody the case that the conservative agenda holds promise for Latinos.
RNC chair Reince Priebus had gamely defended Trump as his campaign worked through what its immigration agenda would look like, promising that Trump would soon outline that agenda’s specifics. Earlier this week, however, Priebus appeared not to know for sure what those specifics would look like, though he did promise that Trump’s plan would be “humane.”
Aguilar told me he had been in touch with the Trump campaign in recent days, and came away believing that there had been an internal struggle over the issue, and that the restrictionists won.
Now, Aguilar said, other Latino conservative leaders, including people the RNC has traditionally relied on to reach Latino voters, would soon be having a “conversation” to “figure out what to do.”
“Reince Priebus right now is probably in despair,” Aguilar said.