Despite losing millions of dollars and countless business relationships, Donald Trump's agenda of injecting demagoguery and xenophobia into the presidential campaign continues unabated. Just yesterday Trump was once again at the border, visiting Laredo, Texas, where he again said he would not only win the Latino vote, but that he was "way, way ahead" in the race for the vote. If he really believes that, he is higher than one of his own Trump Towers.
But as I said in my keynote address at NCLR's Annual Conference in Kansas City last week, while Trump does not matter, what he says does. He will never be president, but for those who have a chance, and for the party that aspires to retake the White House in 2016, the last few weeks have been a squandered opportunity.
Watch my speech below:
We appreciate candidates like Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Perry who have been sharply critical of Trump, but the overall response of the Republican Party and its leadership has been mixed and tepid at best. Added to that is the failure of any Republican candidate, aside from Ben Carson, to attend any of the major Hispanic conferences during the last month, even though three Democratic candidates managed to make it to Kansas City last week. The conventional wisdom in politics is that what happens at this stage of the campaign has little bearing on the outcome, but the Republicans' missed opportunity to unequivocally address the Trump wing of the party and to make their cases directly to the country's largest ethnic minority and its fastest-growing group of voters will prove costly come November of next year.
One major reason is an analysis by the noted polling firm Latino Decisions, which significantly ups the "threshold" number of Latino votes Republicans need to win the presidency. For more than a decade, pundits and other electoral experts have said the party needs to win 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in order to have a chance to win the White House. But Latino Decisions found that in the key battleground states, the percentage needed now ranges from 42 percent to 47 percent. Keep in mind Mitt Romney garnered 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and the most recent polling by Univision shows that the top Republican candidate among Hispanic voters, Jeb Bush, still would only get 27 percent of the vote.
In other words, the failure to respond to Trump and being AWOL from Latino events are not going to mend the damage done by embracing or ignoring the anti-immigrant wing of the party and help bridge a 20 percent gap. If that is not incentive enough for Republican leadership to find their spine and their voice on Trump and immigration, consider a poll released by The George Washington University yesterday that found a strong majority of all voters reject Trump's bigoted characterization of immigrants as "criminals" and "bad people." In fact, 71 percent of voters polled believe immigrants are "family and community-oriented." This echoes the results of a Washington Post/ABC poll released last week that showed American voters believe immigrants are "honest" vs. "undesirable" by a 74 percent to 16 percent margin.
As I noted in last week's speech, we firmly believe the vast majority of Republicans are neither bigoted nor anti-immigrant. Just look at the party's history. It was a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery 150 years ago. It was a Republican senator, Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, who pushed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts over the finish line 50 years ago. A Republican president, Ronald Reagan, signed the last legislation to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers 30 years ago.
And just last month, it was a Republican governor, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, and two Republican Senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, who spearheaded the movement that finally removed the Confederate flag from the state capitol.
Republicans have a choice to make--either embrace both that heritage and the American future by confronting and challenging bigotry within their ranks or continue to turn a blind eye to demonization for political gain. The Latino community will be watching on August 6 during the first Republican debate of the campaign to see what choice the candidates and their party have made. If they choose wisely, they will have a real chance at the presidency. If they don't, they will learn that electoral challenges that were once difficult have now become insurmountable.