The GOP’s Latino Problem

Republicans like Rep. Sean Duffy are trying to improve the party’s Hispanic outreach, but having Donald Trump atop the ticket isn’t helping.

Rep. Sean Duffy and Rachel Campos-Duffy speaking Monday at the Republican National Convention
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
July 19, 2016, 4:27 p.m.

CLEV­E­LAND—Rep. Sean Duffy and his wife, Rachel Cam­pos-Duffy, walked on stage at Quick­en Loans Arena Monday night to ap­plause and cheers, but when the lat­ter men­tioned that her fath­er im­mig­rated from Mex­ico, a few isol­ated “boos” em­an­ated from the crowd.

The couple laughed tensely, then, ig­nor­ing the awk­ward out­bursts, moved on to talk about how their bi­cul­tur­al back­grounds in­stilled in them an eth­ic of hard work, dis­cip­line, self-re­li­ance, and op­por­tun­ity—val­ues shared by the Re­pub­lic­an Party.

The ex­change was em­blem­at­ic of the chal­lenge Latino Re­pub­lic­ans feel here at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion: Their nom­in­ee, Don­ald Trump, has ali­en­ated much of their com­munity, but they are try­ing to make the best of it.

Com­pared to the last few GOP nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tions, there has been little pos­it­ive em­phas­is on Lati­nos, mem­bers of the com­munity here said. In­stead, the rhet­or­ic has tracked closely to that of the pre­sumptive nom­in­ee, whose con­dem­na­tion of many im­mig­rants as crim­in­als, drug deal­ers, and rap­ists helped pro­pel him to the top of the tick­et by an­im­at­ing the party’s anti-His­pan­ic-im­mig­ra­tion wing. It has, however, left him with sup­port in the teens from the Latino com­munity, ac­cord­ing to re­cent polling.

As Trump and Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Re­ince Priebus this week an­nounced an up­com­ing His­pan­ic en­gage­ment tour, Latino Re­pub­lic­ans and lead­ers who rep­res­ent large His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions be­moaned Trump’s tone and the lack of top-flight His­pan­ic speak­ers and per­formers, ur­ging Trump to start the out­reach quickly be­fore it is too late.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn of Texas car­ried the His­pan­ic vote dur­ing his 2014 reelec­tion cam­paign. As he walked among re­port­ers and del­eg­ates in the arena Monday, he ac­know­ledged that His­pan­ic out­reach has taken a back­seat to uni­fy­ing after a di­vis­ive primary. But he said he hopes Trump will en­gage him and oth­ers in how to reach out to the Latino com­munity.

“It’s not all that com­plic­ated. It’s a mat­ter of show­ing up and demon­strat­ing your re­spect. You can have dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on mat­ters of im­mig­ra­tion and the like. But that’s an area he could do much bet­ter in, which I would be happy to help him with,” Cornyn said. “I would just hope as part of the gen­er­al-elec­tion cam­paign, you can’t ig­nore that huge seg­ment of the gen­er­al elect­or­ate.”

In­deed, for the time be­ing, Latino Re­pub­lic­ans feel left out of the fest­iv­it­ies. Al­though GOP primary run­ners-up Marco Ru­bio and Ted Cruz, both of Cuban des­cent, will speak, par­ti­cipants at a Tues­day pan­el on Latino out­reach com­plained that the pro­gram has been oth­er­wise light on Lati­nos. Not­ably ab­sent are Nevada Gov. Bri­an San­dov­al and New Mex­ico Gov. Susana Mar­tinez, said Ruth Guerra, the RNC’s former dir­ect­or of His­pan­ic me­dia, who re­portedly left be­cause of her dis­com­fort with Trump. (Mar­tinez was al­ways un­likely to at­tend the con­ven­tion, giv­en that she has cri­ti­cized Trump’s com­ments about Mex­ic­an im­mig­rants and Trump in turn has said she “has got to do a bet­ter job” as gov­ernor.)

“Ob­vi­ously, I would have liked to see a pro­gram sim­il­ar to 2012, when we saw great His­pan­ic speak­ers lined up,” Guerra, who is of Mex­ic­an des­cent, said Tues­day, adding that she has not com­mit­ted to vot­ing for the can­did­ate.

On Monday, a video was played from the con­ven­tion stage that de­cried crim­in­al un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants and in­cluded a voice-over not­ing that vic­tims of these crim­in­als have to be “raped, robbed, murdered be­fore they be­come a pri­or­ity.” That is a far cry from 2000, when then-can­did­ate George W. Bush stated in a video mes­sage to the con­ven­tion that “Lati­nos en­rich our coun­try with faith in God, a strong eth­ic of work and com­munity and re­spons­ib­il­ity,” and that he was “proud of the Latino blood that flows in the Bush fam­ily.”

The mes­sage has not gone un­noticed, said Daniel Gar­za, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the LIBRE ini­ti­at­ive, a group backed by the Koch broth­ers ded­ic­ated to con­ser­vat­ive out­reach in the His­pan­ic com­munity.

“In 2000, you had [icon­ic Mex­ic­an sing­er] Vi­cente Fernan­dez singing ‘Cielito Lindo’ at the na­tion­al con­ven­tion. That tells me I mat­ter, that my cul­ture mat­ters, that there’s a sym­bol­ism of in­clus­iv­ity. Where is that?” Gar­za asked. “So it’s not only policy for me … but also the nar­rat­ive. If your nar­rat­ive in­cludes me, then that tells me I’m go­ing to be in­cluded in your policy out­comes too.”

Still, there have been some at­tempts at in­clus­iv­ity. Ken­tucky state Sen. Ral­ph Al­varado was giv­en a prime-time speak­ing slot Tues­day even­ing after meet­ing with Trump in Cin­cin­nati in Ju­ly. He said he thinks the slot is the res­ult of an email he wrote to cam­paign of­fi­cials earli­er this year be­moan­ing the tone of the cam­paign.

“I said people are get­ting this im­age that His­pan­ics are just a bunch of refugees crawl­ing across the bor­der. We’re more than that. We’re hard­work­ing, we’re in­dus­tri­ous people. We’ve got to get that mes­sage out to let Re­pub­lic­ans know what we are, and let His­pan­ics hear that we know what they are,” he said in an in­ter­view Monday in the con­ven­tion hall. “I’m hop­ing that my mes­sage comes out.”

A group of cur­rent and former party of­fi­cials and act­iv­ists who once vowed nev­er to sup­port Trump an­nounced in a let­ter Monday they had changed their minds and will sup­port the nom­in­ee. Oth­ers, however, worry that it may be too late to make what they see as a much-needed sea change.

At a Tues­day pan­el or­gan­ized by the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion of Latino Elec­ted and Ap­poin­ted Of­fi­cials, Mex­ic­an Am­bas­sad­or to the United States Car­los Sada So­lana, who was in the audi­ence, said he and his people are “in­sul­ted” by Trump’s rhet­or­ic about build­ing a wall and asked Re­pub­lic­an Latino lead­ers to an­swer for it. In re­sponse, Re­pub­lic­an former Pu­erto Rico Gov. Lu­is For­tuño answered: “As a Re­pub­lic­an, I am em­bar­rassed by some of the state­ments that have been made, I’ll be hon­est.”

In an in­ter­view after the pan­el, For­tuño said the RNC writ large had made great strides in reach­ing out to Lati­nos, and can­did­ates like Sen. Cory Gard­ner of Col­or­ado showed that Re­pub­lic­ans can nar­row the gap. But with little time to go be­fore Elec­tion Day, and Trump show­ing few signs of an about face, he said, “they’ve made it very dif­fi­cult.

“The RNC has done a su­perb job. I must ad­mit, however, that the tone of the cam­paign start­ing a year ago is not con­du­cive to what the RNC has been work­ing on for three years. So there’s a di­cho­tomy there,” For­tuño said. “What I’m hope­ful about is that reas­on will pre­vail, that there’s more of us who don’t just boo at any­thing that isn’t from Wis­con­sin or wherever.”

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