By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR
Photo: Gage Skidmore
An election cycle, particularly a presidential one, should be a time of possibility, with candidates putting forth real solutions to strengthen the country and bring Americans together to do so. I know we all wish it were so. Rather, we find ourselves drowning in a constant stream of fear and anxiety that defies who we really are as a country, and candidates painting a picture of America that would make Mad Max sound like a picnic. For the Latino community, when campaign season rolls around, too often it should come with the warning “brace for impact.”
In July, as thousands of Latino leaders from across the nation gathered in Kansas City at our Annual Conference, the Latino community was already feeling the effects of this presidential season. There, in my address to our network, weeks before the first Republican presidential debate in August, I cautioned the Republican Party and its leadership about the toll Donald Trump’s unvarnished bigotry and hateful remarks were having not only on the party’s electoral prospects, but its legacy. At the time, Trump was just getting started and his effect on the campaign with regard to the Latino vote was akin to a paper cut—nasty but superficial.
But what has happened since has turned a paper cut into a gaping wound. Trump has doubled down on his anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric with a dystopian immigration policy, including a huge wall and mass deportation. He also resurrected the nativist trope of eviscerating the 14th amendment and ending birthright citizenship. And yet, while his fellow candidates seem to have no problem taking on Trump’s distasteful personality and his insufficient conservatism, most of them jumped right on the ending birthright citizenship bandwagon. Even Jeb Bush—who opposes ending birthright citizenship—referenced and then defended using the disgraceful term, “anchor babies.”
Trump has succeeded—aided and abetted by the rest of the Republican field—in making the immigration debate as toxic and as far from real solutions as it has ever been. His style has vaulted him into the lead for the nomination for now. Pundits are marveling at how impervious this lead has been to the gaffes and insults Trump has hurled at just about everyone. But there is one group with whom Trump is not Teflon—Latino voters.
The numbers are staggering. A poll last week showed that only 22 percent of Hispanics would vote for Trump, which is even lower than Mitt Romney’s near-record low of 27 percent in 2012. A Gallup poll conducted in August found that 65 percent viewed Trump negatively and a Washington Post/ABC poll found that 82 percent of Latinos viewed Trump unfavorably, with 68 percent saying “strongly so.”
Latinos know the toxicity Trump is feeding, and other Republican candidates are tacitly or actively endorsing, runs deeper than immigration. They know Trump said “Mexicans and Latin Americans,” not “illegal immigrants” in those offensive remarks in early summer—and numerous corporations parted ways with him because it is indeed deeper. Latinos see a party willing to strip babies and children of their citizenship, leaving them stateless in the nation in which they were born. Our community understands that this is really about challenging our very place in the American family.
I also believe that Trump’s poor polling results with Hispanic voters are an early indication of how Americans of good conscience will react to candidates who stand on a platform that seeks to stir bigotry and persecution.
On the eve of the next presidential debate this week, I hope that the candidates demonstrate with their tone and policy ideas that they are fit to carry forward the nation’s motto—E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One. But if it is not their “better angels,” perhaps they should heed these polls of Latino voters and the damage Trump has done that these numbers reflect. Because the road to the White House leads right through the Latino community.
In the meantime, Latinos are responding against this demonization in the most American of ways: immigrants who are eligible are becoming citizens, and those who are citizens are registering to vote. And NCLR and our nationwide network of Affiliates are there every step of the way to see this through, ensuring that we use our voice in the most powerful way we know how—to vote on Election Day.