What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

It is often taken as a given that Donald Trump's comments about Mexican immigrants on the day of his campaign announcement were a net negative for the general election. They were certainly financially harmful in the short term, prompting a slew of boycotts and canceled deals. As the presidential race evolved, they seemed to be taking a political toll, too. In early March, Gallup found that 77 percent of Hispanics viewed Trump unfavorably, compared to 12 percent who viewed him positively. A Washington Post-Univision poll in February found those numbers to be 16 percent favorable and 80 percent unfavorable -- with more than 7 in 10 Hispanics saying that they viewed Trump very unfavorably.

At the same time, though, Trump's actual general-election position didn't seem to reflect anything out of the norm. We noted in May that Trump wasn't doing much worse than past Republicans in terms of support from Hispanic voters, a finding that was reinforced last week by Pew Research. Trump, Pew found, trailed Hillary Clinton in a general-election matchup by 42 points -- bad, but with a level of support that was about equal to what Mitt Romney had in Pew's October 2012 poll and John McCain had in Pew's survey in July 2008.

The conservative Washington Examiner picked up that data point, with the paper's Byron York writing, "After all that's happened, Trump fares no worse with Hispanic voters than Romney or McCain." The story ricocheted around social media over the weekend.

Last week, the Drudge Report celebrated Trump's support rising among Hispanics.

The citation? An assessment of sentiment about Trump in social media posts thought to have come from Hispanic users.

On CNN on Monday morning, former Trump campaign manager and now professional Trump booster Corey Lewandowski offered up another set of results to the same end.

LEWANDOWSKI: If you look at this and you look at the election results and where the polls stand right now, Donald Trump is doing better with Hispanics; he says he's going to win Hispanics. He employs thousands of Hispanics. He said the Mexican government is too smart, the leaders there are too smart. They're taking advantage ...
HOST: What poll are you talking about, Corey?
LEWANDOWSKI: There's a poll out last week that shows this.
HOST: But what poll? You're going to cite the poll ...
LEWANDOWSKI: The Q[uinnipiac] poll. It's the Q poll. Look at Q. He's got 33 ... 33 percent, he's winning with Hispanics, which if you look at what Mitt Romney received or John McCain received, he's way above where they were. Way above.

Trump's been saying that he'll win Hispanics from the outset, but Lewandowski is careful not to suggest that anyone besides Trump thinks so. He references a Quinnipiac University poll released at the end of June, showing Clinton leading Trump 50 to 33 -- with a 10-point margin of error. In June 2012, Mitt Romney got 30 percent. It's likely that Lewandowski's claim of Trump being "way above" Romney and McCain is a reference to where they ended up in exit polls -- but that's comparing apples to oranges, as is obvious from the Pew comparison above. (Plus, McCain got 31 percent of Hispanics and Romney 27, so 33 percent by comparison is hardly a blowout.)

So what gives? Why the push to insist that Trump is doing fine (or even particularly well) with Hispanic voters? Because it rebuts the idea that Donald Trump's "political incorrectness" -- calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers and rapists, for example -- is politically toxic. It also serves as a rejection of the concern from members of the Republican establishment that Trump is undercutting the party's efforts to make inroads with the country's rapidly growing Hispanic population. In other words, it proves Trump politically right -- if that 33 percent in Quinnipiac's poll or the much, much less impressive 24 in Pew's holds up.

What's interesting to note in the Pew results is that there is a wide split based on language dominance. Those who mostly speak Spanish or who are bilingual are far more hostile to Trump than are Hispanics who are mostly English-speaking. The former group prefers Hillary Clinton by 69 points. The latter, by seven.

That distinction reflects a split in who's being asked. The group of mostly Spanish-speakers includes many more recent immigrants to the United States than does the latter. In the past, polling has showed that recent immigrants are more hostile to Trump than people that have lived here longer and are more assimilated in American culture -- for perhaps obvious reasons. Last year, the Chicago Tribune noted that 42 percent of Hispanics disapproved of President Obama's actions on halting the deportation of immigrants here illegally. That same percentage is about what Trump got from English-speaking Hispanics in Pew's poll.

Pew notes that the group of Hispanics most annoyed with Trump is also the group least likely to vote. Some may not be citizens; some may not yet be registered.

Where the race ends up remains to be seen, of course. It appears that Trump's hard-line rhetoric and unusual disparagement of immigrants isn't costing him heavily with Hispanic voters so far, thanks in part to support from nonimmigrant Hispanics. For those seeking to defend Trump, this is good news both electorally and morally. If Hispanics aren't bothered by Trump, the argument goes, then what he's saying and what he's proposing are okay.

The verdict on whether that's politically true is yet to be rendered. The verdict on whether it's true in general is much more subjective.

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a news conference in Washington, U.S., May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)