The chief spokesman for the Florida Republican Party, who is Hispanic, is leaving his job and joining a conservative organization due to differences with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Wadi Gaitan, a former senior House Republican aide who focused on Hispanic affairs, becomes yet another high-profile Latino Republican official to leave his job because he can no longer tolerate defending and explaining Trump. The Republican nominee has spent much of the past year maligning immigrants, minorities and women, a strategy that helped him win the party's nomination but that has led to historically poor approval ratings among black and Latino voters.
Gaitan will be joining the LIBRE Initiative, a grass-roots organization backed by the industrialists Charles and David Koch.
"I’m thankful for my almost two years with the Florida GOP, however, moving on gives me a great, new opportunity to continue promoting free market solutions while avoiding efforts that support Donald Trump," Gaitan said in a statement.
The LIBRE Initiative and its executive director, Daniel Garza, remain active in Hispanic communities nationwide, spending millions of dollars in the past year trying to draw Latino voters to support conservative or libertarian policies. The group does not advocate for political candidates. Garza has said that Trump's combative anti-immigrant rhetoric has made his organization's outreach more difficult.
Gaitan, the son of Honduran immigrants, once served a critical role for the GOP on Capitol Hill. With debate over immigration reform dominating the discussion, he served as the lead Spanish-speaking spokesman for House Republicans and maintained close relationships with Spanish-language media outlets, including Univision, Telemundo and CNN en Español. He met regularly with lawmakers who were willing to speak out in Spanish, including Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and former congressman Trey Radel (R-Fla.), to tutor them on political lingo and prepare them for interviews. The outreach earned plaudits from the Spanish-speaking political press corps.
In more recent years, he served as the Florida GOP's top spokesman as two of the state's political stars, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, ran unsuccessfully for president.
Many Hispanics active in national GOP politics have been hoping for months that Trump would tone down his broadsides against immigrants and minorities. But Trump's attacks have only intensified since he won the party nomination, most recently as he clashed with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a Muslim Army captain killed during the Iraq War.
Gaitan is not alone in finding a way to continue in Republican politics outside the GOP's official infrastructure to avoid questions about Trump. Ruth Guerra stepped down in early June as the Republican National Committee's Hispanic communications director ahead of the party's convention to join the American Action Network. As the party's national Spanish-speaking spokeswoman, Guerra had told friends and associates she was struggling to defend a candidate attacking Hispanics on a near-daily basis.
Guerra's successor, Helen Aguirre Ferre, a former Bush supporter, has faced intense public pressure since taking the job. She stepped down last month as chairwoman of the Miami Dade College Board of Trustees, citing her increased workload and travel schedule. She held the pro-bono chairman's job for 12 years and remains a board member of the college, but immigration reform activists have called for her removal, believing that a de facto Trump surrogate should not play an active role at a college with a large immigrant student population.