It’s the morning after another incendiary speech by Donald Trump, and Juan Hernandez, a Republican political consultant who has spent much of his career advocating for immigration reform and closer ties to Mexico, is feeling energized.
Trump has finally revealed his “10-point immigration plan,” which calls for deportation squads and a “beautiful” and “impenetrable” wall. The plan horrified the majority of Latinos, including Hernandez and his fellow conservatives, some of whom are on Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council. There is talk of mutiny, and Hernandez sees opportunity. At his hotel in Phoenix, he’s busily emailing members of the council, trying to persuade them to join him on the Gary Johnson campaign, where he’s serving as Latino outreach director for the Libertarian Party candidate.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Hernandez, who’s upbeat even on his off days. “I emailed Jacob Monty at 3 a.m. saying ‘The water is warm. Come on over.’” A few hours later, Monty, a lawyer and Texas Republican, would announce he was leaving Trump’s campaign. Alfonso Aguilar, another prominent Latino conservative, would bow out a couple of days later.
The Republican Party has always had a conflicted relationship with Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. In 2008, Hernandez served as Hispanic outreach director for Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign. But much of the time, Hernandez felt frustrated and stifled. McCain’s campaign seemed paralyzed when it came to appealing to Hispanics without alienating the Republican Party’s base of older Anglo voters.
But then came Donald Trump and his harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, which Hernandez, a die-hard Republican, knew he could never support. Hernandez was in Cleveland covering the Republican convention for CNN Español and was crushed when Trump was officially nominated. “I would say that Latinos are probably the most disappointed group in America right now,” he said. ‘We’ve got the insults from the right and the unrequited promises of the left on immigration reform.”
It was in Cleveland, during the convention, that Gary Johnson introduced himself to Hernandez and asked whether he would serve as director of Latino outreach for Johnson’s presidential campaign. Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, ran for president as the Libertarian candidate in 2012 and got just under 1 percent of the vote. But 2016 is a different story. With the unpopularity of both Clinton and Trump and the addition of Bill Weld, the former moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts, as vice-presidential candidate, the Libertarian ticket has arguably never been so mainstream.
“People are desperate for an option C,” Hernandez said. Every time Trump steps further to the right on immigration, Hernandez has new material to work with.
But he has a long road ahead of him. “Most Latinos have never heard of Gary Johnson,” he said. Still, Hernandez thinks he can change that by championing Johnson’s moderate stance on immigration and his conservative views on government and taxation.
In late August, Lionel Sosa, a well-known Republican presidential consultant who worked for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, joined Hernandez to do messaging and outreach. But a week after Hernandez made his first entreaties to Monty and Aguilar, he was still trying to convince them to cross over. “Look, I’m not leaving the Republican Party,” Hernandez said. “I still believe it’s the party of Lincoln and Reagan. But I can’t support Trump either. And I’ll never support Hillary Clinton. So I’m supporting option C.”