The day Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president, his comments on undocumented immigrants made it clear that he would have trouble earning the favor of Latino voters.
When he later told NBC News he was confident that if he became the Republican nominee he would “win the Latino vote,” many reacted with disbelief, not only because his comments had generated outrage in the Latino community, but also because the demographic has traditionally gone blue.
Conservative Hispanics do exist, but Mr. Trump does not seem to be successfully wooing them, either. Instead, his harsh stances on immigration have them turning their backs on him – and generating concern that the GOP is turning its back on them.
“Extremely bigoted, offensive to all Hispanic-Americans, unconstitutional … and self-defeating." That's how Gonzalo Ferrer, chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA), characterized Trump’s comments on immigration, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The RNHA website notes that "Hispanic-Americans ... lean conservative because we share the same values of hard work, faith, and family.”
The Donald is damaging that connection, says Mr. Ferrer, and Trump shows “reckless disregard for the harm he is causing to Republican Hispanic-American families and to the Republican cause.”
In a policy paper published on his website, Trump promotes a regime of mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, and proposes to repeal “birthright citizenship,” by which any child born in the United States is automatically granted citizenship, regardless of his or her parents’ legal status.
Ferrer told the Journal these aggressive policy proposals are alienating Hispanic voters. “Basically, they are saying, ‘We don’t want you. Get out,’ ” he said.
The repeal of birthright citizenship – a right secured by the 14th Amendment – probably would not pass Congress, but has captured Republican candidates’ attention anyway. Lindsey Graham and Bobby Jindal have both expressed support for ending the practice, but Marco Rubio openly denounced the idea.
Governor Jindal and Senator Rubio are both sons of immigrant parents.
“I’m open to doing things that prevent people who deliberately come to the US for purposes of taking advantage of the 14th Amendment, but I’m not in favor of repealing it,” Rubio said Tuesday, at the Ohio State Fair. He also criticized Trump’s approach to deportation. “There’s not really a realistic way of rounding up and deporting 12 or 13 million people,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to do that anyway.”
Republican voters seem to feel the same way: A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll from earlier this month revealed that only 43 percent of voters were in favor of an aggressive deportation policy, while 53 percent said they supported giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship or some form of legal status.
At one point, Trump fell into the latter camp himself, Alfonso Aguilar – director of the Latino Partnership at conservative group American Principles in Action – pointed out to NBC News.
"A month ago, he was arguing for a path to legal status,” Aguilar said. “Three years ago, he criticized Mitt Romney's self-deportation policy as 'maniacal'. And now he's supportive of mass deportation?"
Trump may be head and shoulders above his GOP competition in the polls, but he is projected to lose – if only by a small margin – to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who had 64 percent of the Hispanic vote as of a July Univision survey.