The 2016 race just got stranger: Trump says he can win Latino vote
'Hispanics love me,' Trump said Wednesday morning. 'I will win the Latino vote because I'm going to bring jobs back into our country.'
Donald Trump is in a hole and he won't stop digging.
Weeks after his controversial campaign launch speech, in which he labeled Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "criminals," Trump hasn't exactly backed quietly away.
He has talked about building an impenetrable wall to stop Mexicans from entering the country.
He has tweeted, "I love Mexican people but Mexico is not our friend. They're killing us at the border and they're killing us on jobs and trade. FIGHT!"
It was enough to repulse at least some of his 2016 Republican rivals.
"My party is in a hole with Hispanics – the first rule of politics when you’re in a hole is to stop digging," fellow GOP hopeful Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said following a speech in Washington last week. "And somebody needs to take the shovel out of Donald Trump’s hand."
But Trump hasn't apologized for any of his comments. In fact, he's still digging.
"The Hispanics love me," Trump told Fox News Wednesday morning, adding, "I will win the Latino vote because I'm going to bring jobs back into our country."
It's not the first time he's said that.
"I have a great relationship with the Mexican people ... I have many legal immigrants working with me. And many of them come from Mexico. They love me, I love them," Trump told NBC News last week. "And I'll tell you something, if I get the nomination, I'll win the Latino vote."
He echoed his theme over the weekend, when he told a crowd in Los Angeles, "When it's all said and done, I will win the Hispanic vote. I will win the Hispanic vote because I'm going to create jobs."
National Latino figures dismiss his claims.
"Trump’s comments that he would win the Latino vote are laughable," Luis Miranda, former Obama White House spokesperson, told Forbes.
"Trump is just the GOP’s anti-immigrant flavor of the month," added Pablo Manriquez, DNC hispanic media director.
Perhaps more perplexing than his claim is that his anti-immigrant rhetoric isn't hurting him in national polls. It may even be helping.
He's leading all other Republican contenders in a USA Today/Suffolk University survey that has him at 17 percent support, compared to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's 14 percent.
Why is he doing so well?
Amid an extremely large field of Republican candidates, Trump has leveraged his celebrity and the anti-immigrant controversy to stay in the headlines and climb the polls, which reward name recognition early on in races.
But it might not last.
"Bashing Mexicans might give Donald Trump a short-term political bump," Politics Voices contributor John Feehery writes for the Christian Science Monitor, "But long term, that kind of rhetoric is politically disastrous for the Republican Party and bad for the country at large."
That's because Hispanics comprise a key demographic for winning elections. Their numbers in the US are expected to reach 63.5 million by 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. And while an estimated 11 percent of all eligible voters are Latinos, only 26 percent of registered Latino voters identify as Republican, according to the Pew Research Center.
The GOP didn't do well with the Hispanic community in the 2012 presidential election, when Latinos voted for President Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 71 percent to 27 percent, according to Pew.
"As a party, we should reject what he says because it's not true, and if we don't reject it, we've lost the moral authority, in my view, to govern this country," Senator Graham told CNN on Sunday. "If we don't, we will lose, and we will deserve to lose."