Koch-Funded Efforts To Win Hispanics Crashing, Burning

Trump has “ruined a lot of the work that the Libre Initiative, and Hispanic pro-liberty activists have been doing."

WASHINGTON -- A large, well-funded Republican network established following the 2012 electoral defeat to expand GOP support among Hispanics now lies in ruins.

The Libre Initiative, which has received more than $10 million from the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, aimed to expand the party's reach in presidential battleground states in hopes of winning the White House in 2016.  

But now, the group and its billionaire backers are focused on maintaining Republican control of the Senate, having effectively retreated from the presidential race and their party's presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.

Trump has “ruined a lot of the work that the Libre Initiative, and Hispanic pro-liberty activists have been doing,” said a source within the Koch network who agreed to speak on background about the group's plans.

"It's going to be up to the Trump campaign to now make their case to the Latino community,” Dan Garza, executive director of Libre Initiative, told The Huffington Post. “We’re going to be involved in the Senate races, some of the important 50-50 congressional races, [and] mobilizing thousands of Latinos in those campaigns.”

Garza and the Libre Initiative still have a big job ahead of them. Latinos are the fastest growing voter group in the country, and the number of eligible Hispanic voters has grown 17 percent since 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.

Interviews with a dozen influential Hispanic Republicans suggest that the problems between Trump and Hispanic Republicans extend well beyond the Koch network. Within a demographic group critical to swinging the electoral map, that support is virtually nonexistent for Trump.

In June, Trump drew outrage after labeling undocumented immigrants from Mexico rapists who bring crime and drugs to America. Rather than apologizing, Trump doubled down by claiming the Mexican government has been sending dangerous felons across it northern border.

"I am unaware of any Republican Hispanic leaders who are excited to have Trump as the nominee," Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, told HuffPost. "Many are refusing outright to support him in any capacity."

"Most of the Republican Hispanic activists that I know [are] having a hard time with what they're seeing now with the GOP," said Ed Lopez,  a former vice chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Lopez said he plans to vote for Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who is campaigning for president on the Libertarian Party ticket.

"I'm very depressed, frankly," said Linda Chavez, chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a former Reagan administration cabinet member. "I did not become a Republican to support someone like Donald Trump." Getting Hispanic voters out to the polls, she said, "is going to be very difficult with the top of the ticket being Donald Trump."  

But that doesn't mean Trump won't try for the Hispanic vote. The billionaire recently filmed a video that was played at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference earlier this month.

"National, Hispanic, Christian: Three great words," Trump said. "We're going to take care of you. We're going to work with you. You're going to be very happy. You're going to like President Trump."

But even with Trump's promises, in critical swing states like Florida, Hispanic Republican office holders are clearly torn over what to do about Trump, and focused on local politics.

"I won't endorse Hillary Clinton," said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera (R), when asked if he'd endorse Donald Trump. "But Republicans can learn from what we're doing in Florida, and I still have plenty of support within the Hispanic community."

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.