Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop last month in South Bend, Ind. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)
Opinion writer

In reading poll numbers of the 2016 presidential election, no number is more important to watch than that of Latino support. We’ve known this for years. Even the Republican Party made it the centerpiece of its much-ballyhooed and instantly ignored “autopsy” of its 2012 presidential loss. But it would be useful to have some context when looking at said number.

“Mark my words,” wrote Victoria DeFrancesco Soto for NBC News.com, “come November Trump will get 25, maybe even 30 percent of the Latino vote.” The fellow at the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas argues, among other things, that “aspirational branding” of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeals to Latinos as much as it does to all Americans. There’s no doubt in my mind that Soto is right.

Remember, the high-water mark for Latino support of a Republican presidential candidate was 44 percent for President George W. Bush in 2004. By 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) earned 31 percent. And Mitt Romney could muster just 27 percent in 2012. This was after a campaign in which he called on undocumented immigrants to “self deport” during the 2012 election. Trump has said much worse. His rhetorical abuse of a federal judge “of Mexican heritage” who also is deciding lawsuits against Trump University is but the latest example.

The question is whether replicating Romney’s 2012 Latino support or even 30 percent, as Soto suggests, will be enough for Trump to slide into the White House. And the clear answer is no. Sure, there are concerns about polls of Hispanic voters, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know the threshold support Trump would need on Election Day to actually win the presidency.

[A Trump nomination could lock Hispanics into the Democratic column for a generation or more]

According to three scenarios in  a 2015 analysis by Latino Decisions, that magic number on a national level starts at 42 percent of the Latino vote. This “best-case scenario for the GOP” requires “the expected growth in the Latino vote [to] not fully materialize, the white vote to perform at 2014 levels and the African American vote to sink to “pre-[President] Obama levels.” The worst-case scenario envisions Republicans needing to snare 52 percent of the Hispanic vote in an environment that “recreates the voting behavior that facilitated President Obama’s reelection” and sees an increase in Latino voter participation.


A Donald Trump supporter stands across the street from a protest held by a number of Latino organizations outside NBC Studios last year. (Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

David Damore and Matt Barreto at Latino Decisions went the extra step of looking at six swing states with large or emerging Latino electorates and whose electoral votes will be infinitely more important than total national vote. They can only be described as rough terrain for the Republican Party. Below are those states and the percentage of Latino vote needed for the GOP nominee to win the state, assuming black turnout is not as high in November as it was in 2008 or 2012 and the Latino share of the electorate “slightly increases.”

New Mexico (42 percent): Obama won this state in 2012. Exit polls show Latinos were 37 percent of the electorate. Romney got 29 percent of that vote. Obama got 65 percent.

Ohio (43 percent): Obama won this state in 2012. Exit polls show Latinos were 3 percent of the electorate. Romney got 42 percent of that vote. Obama got 54 percent.

Colorado (44 percent): Obama won this state in 2012. Exit polls show Latinos were 14 percent of the electorate. Romney got 23 percent of that vote. Obama got 75 percent.

Nevada (45 percent): Obama won this state in 2012. Exit polls show Latinos were 19 percent of the electorate. Romney got 24 percent of that vote. Obama got 71 percent.

Virginia (46 percent): Obama won this state in 2012. Exit polls show Latinos were 5 percent of the electorate. Romney got 33 percent of that vote. Obama got 64 percent.

Florida (47 percent): Obama won this state in 2012. Exit polls show Latinos were 17 percent of the electorate. Romney got 39 percent of that vote. Obama got 60 percent.

The Latino Decisions battleground survey from April shows that Trump’s unfavorable rating is an astronomical 87 percent among Latino registered voters. It’s 91 percent in Colorado, 87 percent in Nevada and 84 percent in Florida.


Immigration rights activists protest outside the Republican National Committee in Washington, where Donald Trump met with party leaders on May 12. (Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Republican pollster Whit Ayres has consistently warned, “a Republican nominee who hopes to win a majority of the popular vote in 2016 must gain either 30 percent of the nonwhite vote or 65 percent of the white vote.” The latter will be virtually impossible even for Trump. And if he is already doing this poorly with the Latino electorate, the former is definitely not going to happen.

[People are overestimating the power of Trump’s white supporters]

In making the case for why he should stay in the Democratic Party contest for the presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lately has taken to saying at campaign rallies, “If we march out with the Democratic nomination, Donald Trump is toast.” If the numbers above bear out, Trump is toast regardless.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj