Hispanic Republicans and conservatives are increasingly anguished over whether they can remain involved in this year’s presidential election as Donald Trump continues to launch attacks on prominent Latinos and makes little effort to win their support.
Many Hispanics active in national GOP politics have been hoping for months that Trump would tone down his broadsides against immigrants and begin delivering a more welcoming, accepting message to minorities.
But amid fresh attacks by Trump on Hispanic figures, there is little evidence that such a change is coming — leading some to abandon the presidential race or the 2016 elections altogether. Just this week, the Hispanic media spokeswoman at the Republican National Committee left her job for a super PAC because she could no longer stomach defending Trump.
“If you’re a Hispanic holding your breath and hoping for Donald Trump to get better in his outreach to Latinos, you’re going to die of asphyxia,” said Ana Navarro, a conservative strategist strongly opposed to Trump.
The unhappiness among many Latino GOP members only adds to the Republican Party’s broader problems in attracting Hispanics and other minorities, who make up an increasingly large part of the electorate and were crucial to President Obama’s two election victories. Their isolation also comes as most of the GOP establishment, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) on Thursday, has rallied around Trump.
Trump has derided Mexican immigrants as rapists and killers and built his candidacy around vows to build a giant border wall, deport 11 million illegal immigrants and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
In the past week, he has lashed out at Susana Martinez of New Mexico, the nation’s only female Hispanic governor, and has accused the Indiana-born judge hearing a fraud case against him, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, of being a “Mexican” who is biased because of Trump’s immigration policies. On Tuesday at a news conference in New York, Trump singled out two Hispanic network television reporters for criticism, calling ABC’s Tom Llamas a “sleaze” and CNN’s Jim Acosta “a real beauty.”
Mario Lopez, president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund, said major Latino GOP activists and contributors are in “a very difficult situation” because of Trump’s rhetoric and positions.
“Just when someone thinks that they can begin to maybe start thinking about coming on board, Trump goes and attacks that judge for being Mexican,” he said. “He’s actually an American citizen born in the United States, but the applause line is this guy is Mexican. He’s not giving people a lot of outs.”
On Wednesday, Ruth Guerra, the RNC’s Hispanic media communications director, stepped down to join the American Action Network, a conservative group that supports GOP congressional candidates. She will be replaced by Helen Aguirre Ferré, a former Univision radio talk-show host and TV analyst who advised former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and has been critical of Trump.
Guerra did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But the dichotomy of being a Republican paid to support a candidate who is attacking Hispanics on a regular basis proved too much for her, according to people familiar with her thinking.
A GOP operative who has worked on Hispanic outreach said that other Latino Republicans “are looking to see if the candidate is going to evolve,” adding that Guerra’s decision to go was “fair.”
“It’s an honor to work with conservative members of Congress and candidates, because it’s a cause that we believe in,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution. “But if the candidate doesn’t reflect some of those principles and values, then waking up in the morning, meeting deadlines, being creative and standing in the gap for the candidate becomes difficult.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who supports Trump, said in a CNN interview Thursday that the candidate’s criticisms of Martinez was “a big mistake.” He also warned that Trump’s comments about Latinos could cause them to flee the GOP, just as black voters left the party when it nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, a group funded by philanthropists Charles and David Koch to promote free-market principles to Latino voters, said he is less concerned with “personality or charisma” and more concerned with a candidate’s policy positions. The group will concentrate on Senate races in the fall.
“I think the very legitimate question that every Latino has to ask themselves is given how unfiltered he is, given what he has said and the harsh positions he’s taken on immigration, are you willing to forsake 80 percent of issue alignment with one candidate because you disagree with 10 or 20 percent of what he says?” Garza said.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published in May found that 84 percent of Hispanics view Trump unfavorably — despite his claims that Latinos will support his candidacy.
Compared with similar points in previous election cycles, Trump trails previous GOP presidential candidates by wide margins. In the spring of 2012, 50 percent of Hispanics had an unfavorable view of Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee, according to polls taken at the time. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) was viewed unfavorably by just 44 percent of Hispanics.
Alfonso Aguilar, a Hispanic conservative activist who knows Guerra and Aguirre Ferré, said Wednesday night that it will continue to be a challenge for any Latino Republican to defend Trump.
“You can have all the Helens you want, but if the candidate continues with his rhetoric and proposals, you’re not going to win Latinos,” he said. “There’s a problem in terms of tone and policy. It’s going to be tough for Helen — I don’t know how you do it.”
Aguirre Ferré said in a statement issued by the RNC that she is “eager to make the case to the Hispanic community why Republican ideas and values are the way forward for our country after eight years of an Obama agenda which has failed all Americans.”
But she frequently slammed Trump in the past year on Spanish-language TV programs and on Twitter.
Appearing May 8 on Univision’s “Al Punto,” a Sunday public affairs program hosted by the network’s anchor Jorge Ramos, she agreed with other panelists that a segment of the Republican Party will not unite around Trump “because they don’t consider Trump to be a real conservative.” On the same program in April, she said that Trump’s attacks on female journalists such as Megyn Kelly of Fox News make “women feel uncomfortable.”
Last August on Mega TV’s “Ahora con Oscar Haza,” she criticized Trump for his “extremely offensive” attack on Bush’s wife. Trump had retweeted an offensive comment about Columba Bush, who was born in Mexico.
In an email, Aguirre Ferré said nothing about Trump in response to questions about her past criticism, reiterating that she is eager to remind Hispanics that “Hillary Clinton offers a third term of the Obama administration and those policies have been a failure. We can’t afford another Clinton/Obama presidency.”
Three years ago, bruised by Romney’s loss to Obama, the RNC commissioned a study to determine how to improve its outreach to minority voters. The 100-page report urged Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, to focus less on social issues and to build stronger relationships with minority communities.
Three years later, “everything issued in that report has been ignored,” said Al Cardenas, a prominent conservative leader and longtime GOP fundraiser from Miami.
Cardenas said he exchanged text messages with Aguirre Ferré about her new job Wednesday.
“I wished her well,” he said. “You’ve got to wish a friend well in their new endeavors. This is about as challenging a task as any.”
Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.