A year after Mitt Romney’s 2012 failed presidential bid, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus led the “Growth and Opportunity Project.” Its purpose was “to make recommendations about how to grow the party and win more elections.” The final, nearly 100-page report suggested that the GOP needed to attract more African Americans, Latinos, women and millennials. It was a straightforward, thorough account of what went wrong in 2012, so much so that pundits nicknamed it the “GOP Autopsy Report.”
As a Chicano, I, of course, immediately scrolled down to the section about Latinos when I read the report. It prophetically stated: “If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States, they won’t pay attention to our next sentence. It doesn’t matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”
Not only did Donald Trump not follow this advice, he launched his campaign by declaring that Mexico was sending rapists and criminals to the United States, then went on to add what has become his mantra about building a wall along the border and making Mexico pay for it. Which is just plain silly.
From the start, it’s been clear to me that Trump is more interested in building a psychological wall — between Latinos who are citizens and can vote and undocumented Latinos who can’t vote.
I recently tested this theory with an informal survey at the April meeting of the Houston chapter of the National Hispanic Professional Organization (NHPO). A Washington Times report had just come out, saying that 11 percent of Latinos would support Donald Trump in a matchup against Hillary Clinton. I found that hard to believe. So I asked 30 of the 300 or so attendees if they planned to vote for Trump, and, I was surprised to find, four were Trump supporters.
They told me they backed him because they think his statements were aimed only at undocumented people. They believed that because they are U.S. citizens and members of the business community, Trump’s remarks were not intended for them. They also liked the fact that Trump is a businessman and believed that if he were to be elected president, that would, somehow, lead to their making more money, too. Once I asked them how that would work, the explanations got murky.
So perhaps building a wedge between the documented and undocumented works. According to the surveys I’ve seen, Latino support for Trump, while ebbing and flowing, has reached as much as 28 percent in a head-to-head with Hillary Clinton.
But his weaknesses emerged glaringly during his first direct attempt to really kiss up to Latino voters — the time when he posted a picture of himself on Cinco de Mayo eating a bad “taco salad” and giving a shout-out to all Hispanics. That blunder was tiny compared with his charge that Mexican-American Federal Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, who is presiding over the case against Trump University, could not do his job fairly because he would be biased, owing to the proposed Trump Wall.
Trump doubled down, trying to justify his maligning of Judge Curiel by mentioning that he was a member of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association. Ironically, Latino conservatives often belong to such groups — Hispanic chambers of commerce and organizations for accountants and engineers. Now, though, they’re probably too pissed off to ever support Trump, and they’re definitely reminded that these groups were originally formed to fight the discrimination he wants to bring back.
Paul Ryan called Trump’s statement a textbook definition of racism, and he’s not the only high-ranking Republican who has denounced Trump’s bigotry. However, if Republicans denounce but endorse, they are engaging in de facto racism. They should both denounce and not endorse. They should un-endorse.
Trump has pulled this kind of thing before. He tried to undermine Jorge Ramos, the highly respected television anchor and naturalized U.S. citizen, when Ramos asked about Trump’s plan to deport all undocumented immigrants. Trump told him to “go back to Univision,” and Ramos was escorted out of the press conference by security.
Along with the Trump-Judge Curiel fracas, the Ramos incident, should be a wake-up call for documented or U.S.-born Latinos who still think Trump’s racism is not directed toward them.
Take a look at a picture of Judge Curiel. He looks white. The only thing that seems Mexican American about Curiel is his name.
Trump says he wants to make America great again. No. Trump wants to make America discriminate again. If his racist tactics do not reflect the true heart of the Republican Party, then I have bad news for the GOP. Any progress Republicans might have made with Latinos has been flushed down the toilet.
In the tiny hands of Donald Trump, the GOP Autopsy Report has become the GOP Suicide Note. Adiós, GOP. We won’t be back.
[Featured image of Trump pinatas by Thomas Hawk/Flickr/Creative Commons]