Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party's chance to win the presidency and it is probably too late for them to do anything about it. His just announced immigration policy is just the beginning of the GOP's problems. To understand why, we need to go back a few years.
In 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney despite improving but still high unemployment, a broken website during the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, and Obama's less than ideal approval numbers. And it wasn't close. Obama carried the Electoral College 332 to 206, and would have still won easily if he had not scored victories in historic bellwethers Ohio and Michigan -- which he did. For a second time, Obama's new electoral victory map included Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. These are all states Republicans used to win and all states with substantial or growing Latino electorates.
Following this national electoral debacle, the Republican National Committee held what was widely called an "autopsy" -- a top to bottom review of their campaign to figure out why they lost. Of their 7 findings, number 2 concluded that the Republican Party could never again be seen as anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Latino. While George W Bush won approximately 40 percent of the Latino vote, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent.
Romney's big loss among Latinos can be attributed to his embrace of "attrition through enforcement" leading to "self-deportation" a plan to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would flee the country. This tactic was popular at the time among leading anti-immigrant organizations, including those which have been labeled hate groups.
It was not however popular with Latino and Asian voters for whom immigration policy is not an abstract policy discussion but instead often impacts family members and close friends. In simple terms, the Republican nominee was telling Latinos and Asians, "I will harass your mother, aunt, grandfather, or best friend from college so much that they will hate their lives here and want to escape to a country they have not lived in for decades."
Obama answered this GOP messaging with a timely June 2012 election year announcement of an executive action called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which allowed undocumented young people who grew up in the U.S. to have temporary legal status and the ability to work legally. Not surprisingly with such a juxtaposition, Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote and 73 percent of the Asian vote.
So the GOP autopsy wisely suggested that the party never again alienate the overwhelming majority of Latinos and instead "must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," the bipartisan approach which includes a path to citizenship for a substantial portion of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. Or as conservative Dick Armey told the autopsy's authors "You can't call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you."
Despite the autopsy's wisdom, the Republican Party is dragging its rotting anti-immigrant corpse back out of the ground. Donald Trump's immigration policy makes Romney's "self-deportation" plan look downright quaint. Trump would not wait for undocumented immigrants to leave on their own. Instead he would triple the number of Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) agents and set them about arresting and deporting every single undocumented person -- all 11.3 million. This would be accomplished through spending at least $114 billion on the creation of a police state to facilitate mass incarceration and mass deportation. That alone would be the worst immigration strategy since the conspicuously racist Naturalization Act of 1790 which made all immigrants U.S. citizens once they lived in the U.S. for two years as long as they could prove they were white.
But Trump does not stop with mass deportation. Not even close. He would, as he describes it, "keep the families together" by deporting the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants along with their parents. To do so, he would strip these children who are born in the U.S. of their citizenship by declaring that they were never citizens in the first place. Trump says he has unnamed "very, very good lawyers" who tell him these children are not citizens.
Well, actual good lawyers know the 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that "all people born or naturalized in the United States" are citizens. Further, in 1898 in the case of US v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court found that the 14th Amendment means that any child born in the U.S. to parents who reside here, is definitively a U.S. citizen unless the parents are diplomats and thus not required to follow to U.S. laws.
For good measure Trump wants to stop accepting the small number of refugees who are granted asylum every year because they are fleeing wars, rape, death threats and religious or political persecution. His refugee policy is so strict that the fathers of his two rivals, Senators Cruz and Rubio would never have been allowed to stay in the U.S.
Not surprisingly Trump is not popular with Latinos. Even before the presentation of his official immigration plan, Trump was polling at 13 percent among Latinos, resulting from his statement that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists. That's less than half of the support that Romney got. But even getting more support than Romney is not enough.
Because of the rapid growth in the number of Latino and Asian voters, the Republican nominee actually has to do better than Bush's 40 percent. Latinos and Asians will represent 22 percent of the electorate in 2016, up from 20 percent in 2012. What this means according to the leading pollster on Latino electoral behavior, Latino Decisions, is that the Republican nominee will now need to get 47 percent of the Latino vote to win the general election. Simple math: Trump's 13 percent is not close to 47 percent.
But does this really hurt the Republican chances in November 2016? Republican strategists now argue that Trump's statements, because he is running as an outsider, do not injure the Republican brand and that most general election voters are not yet paying attention. They believe that Trump will not win the primary and the eventual Republican nominee will not be hurt by Trump's anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican and anti-Latino screed. They are wrong for two reasons.
First, because Trump is getting most of the media attention and is the Republican front runner in Iowa, New Hampshire and national polling, the other Republican top tier candidates are fighting to get attention by following Trump's lead. When asked directly by MSNBC whether he agreed with Trump that the U.S. should end birthright citizenship, Scott Walker said "Yeah. Absolutely." Ted Cruz says he also agrees with Trump "absolutely." To keep up, Ben Carson says we should address the border with deadly drone strikes -- no, seriously. Jeb Bush, who has tried to position himself with Latino voters as the Republican who is pro immigrant, has started using the slur "anchor babies" to describe the children of undocumented immigrants.
Even former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin supports Trump's immigration plan, saying "Finally, we have someone with the guts who isn't bought by anyone." Being anti-immigrant is no longer the Trump brand, it's now the Republican brand and will be inescapable for the Republican nominee.
Second, Trump is not just the big story in English language press. Telemundo and Univision (the two national Spanish language networks) news programs cover the presidential elections every night just like their English language counterparts. They describe Trump, not as some outsider, but as the Republican frontrunner. They discuss his immigration policies and do so in much greater detail because the issue matters so much to their audience. As such, both networks have heavily covered Trump's intention to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. This coverage matters because we know from the 2014 Latino Election Eve Poll that nearly 60 percent of Latino registered voters watch Spanish language television for information about elections and politics.
Polls also show that for Latino voters, Univision's evening anchor Jorge Ramos is the most trusted and influential voice in the United States. Ramos has given his verdict on Trump: "Right now Donald Trump is, no question, the loudest voice of intolerance, hatred and division in the United States.” It cannot be over-estimated how much Ramos’ vocal disdain for Trump’s plan informs Latino voters.
One final example of the reach of Spanish language media in addressing Donald Trump. On the night of July 17th Univision hosted the musical awards show "Premios Juventud." That night Univision beat Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS among the 18 to 49 year old demographic. The rapper Pitbull received an award and used his acceptance speech to slam Donald Trump despite their prior friendship. Pitbull received a raucous standing ovation, saying "Donald Trump cannot be President" to an audience of 8.1 million viewers or 1/6th of all U.S. Latinos. Trump's nativism is no longer only on Spanish language news but now also part of the Latino popular discussion.
There is no mathematical way for the Republican nominee to win the general election without almost half of the Latino vote. So what are their chances?
It's all over for Trump. And it's probably already now also over for the Republicans. They just don't believe it yet.
Henry Fernandez is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where he focuses on state and municipal policy, with a specific interest in how these impact the civil rights and economic opportunities for Americans.