by Scott Wilson and Eli Rosenberg, Washington Post
Manuel Astorgas did not vote for President Trump in 2016, but he said he viewed the president with an open mind. Trump’s message about the importance of work and criticism of government handouts resonated with Astorgas.
But the president’s negative characterization of Latinos eventually turned him off, Astorgas said. And Trump’s plan to visit this city Wednesday in the aftermath of one of the nation’s worst acts of violence against Latinos seems to Astorgas like a bad idea.
“It just brings in hate,” said Astorgas, a 46-year-old employee of an auto-parts manufacturer. “We are seeing things that we hadn’t seen in a long time. We thought we were finished. We thought we were above that.”
Across this largely Hispanic city in far West Texas, Trump’s visit was viewed with a mixture of anger and trepidation in the community allegedly targeted by a 21-year-old man intent on killing as many Hispanics as possible. But not everyone opposed the visit.
The president still has support from people such as Manuel Hernandez, an 80-year-old who has lived half his life in El Paso and voted for Trump in 2016.
“A lot of bad things are expressed against Latinos,” said Hernandez, speaking in Spanish. “But we don’t know if it’s this [that inspired the gunman] or not. There are a lot of supremacist groups, white supremacists, that don’t like minority groups — black people, Latinos. It’s not the fault of the president, because this has always been around, from way back in time.”
The political differences among Hispanics here are often generational and ideological, a contrast between longtime Mexican American citizens who tend to embrace a traditional Republican message of self-reliance and a younger group dismayed by the president’s broad disparagement of Latinos.
Astorgas and Hernandez are two end points on the spectrum.
Trump won Texas in 2016 but lost in El Paso County to Hillary Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 margin. His visit to El Paso in February still resonates with many Latinos here for the image of lawlessness along the border that Trump described, one that few who live in El Paso recognized.
Wednesday’s visit comes as the president’s 2020 campaign effort has begun to focus on Latino voters in several key swing states, where their support will be key to his reelection. In places such as Pennsylvania and Florida, which Trump won narrowly in 2016, Latino voters who support the president are in a significant minority, but enough may back Trump for him to hold those states.
A recent Telemundo poll, for example, found that a quarter of Texas Latinos support his reelection — a figure that mirrors his national approval rating among adult Hispanics, according to Gallup. That figure has remained largely constant since his election, with an occasional dip and rise again, suggesting there is an immovable core of Latino voters who support him, albeit a clear minority.
“Those who haven’t been shaken by that are hardly going to be shaken by what happened” in El Paso, said Pablo Pinto, a professor and director of the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston, referring to Trump’s past criticism of Hispanics. “People who had voted Republican will continue voting Republican and tend to buy into this rhetoric that getting into the country illegally shouldn’t be rewarded.”
Here in El Paso County, where 8 in 10 of its 840,000 residents are Latino, Trump won 26 percent of the vote in 2016.
Astorgas recalled the February rally here where Trump said, falsely, that his border wall had cut down the crime and chaos in El Paso. Astorgas was angered by the image the president portrayed and fearful of what it might signal to anti-immigrant groups.
“He just went in there and started blasting away,” he said. “What he said at the coliseum probably put a bull’s eye on El Paso. Like there’s a big immigrant problem, like we’re letting them in through the border.”
Astorgas said he also does not understand why Trump has chosen Latinos for such criticism.
“Not all immigrants are rapists,” he said, mentioning his ancestors who came to Texas a few generations ago. “They weren’t rapists. They came to work.”
The shooting has left him and his family disturbed and insecure. He hunkered down in the house with his three sons from Saturday to Sunday, his gun nearby.
“We just decided we’re not leaving,” he said.
His 8-year-old son, the youngest, woke up Monday morning in tears and sick to his stomach. He told his brother he had a dream that his mother died in a mass shooting while they were shopping together.
“He’s still seeing it,” Astorgas said of the news about the massacre.
But Hernandez, more than three decades older than Astorgas, voted for Trump and plans to do so again. He was born in Mexico — in Santa Barbara, a small town in the state of Chihuahua — and raised in Juarez on the far bank of the Rio Grande. He moved to El Paso almost 40 years ago.
In retirement, Hernandez cares about one issue above every other: the Social Security checks he lives on. He said the check’s amount has risen more under Trump than it did during President Barack Obama’s time in office.
“It’s incremental, but you can see it,” he said.
Hernandez said Trump’s words about immigrants were directed more at Mexico than at people like him. While he is not enthusiastic about Trump’s proposed border wall, it does not bother him either.
“It isn’t going to work,” he said. “If they put up the wall, the people are going to go at it like rabbits and come underneath.”
Hernandez said Obama was more concerned with black people than “the rest,” and that he probably wouldn’t vote for another black person for president. If Obama were up for election, he would choose Trump, unbothered by what he has said about immigrants.
“I’ve lived here for almost 40 years in peace,” he said. “It doesn’t interest me.”
In several swing states, Trump’s standing among Hispanics, though small, has remained relatively stable, helped in large part by an economy that many view as healthy.
David Callejas, 35, was born in New York and raised in Colombia. For the past six years, he has lived in Allentown, Pa., working in a bio-tech lab. He did not vote in 2016, but he said he will support Trump in the next election. Trump lost Lehigh County in the last election.
“I don’t know much about the people who did the [El Paso] shooting, but it’s more of an upbringing issue with the individual,” said Callejas, as he made his way toward the Game Stop store in Allentown’s South Mall.
“Ever since he [Trump] got elected, going to Twitter and bashing people, that doesn’t seem presidential, but it’s who he’s always been,” he continued. “I like the business background he has. America needs that. We don’t want to go through another economic crisis. The Democrats are too radical. We don’t want to become Venezuela.”
Waiting for lunch at the roadside Taco Town food truck off Lehigh Street, Mario Carcamo, an immigrant from El Salvador, said, “I believe that most of us believe in the law in this country.”
Carcamo, 59, holds down multiple jobs — fixing houses, making soda for Dr Pepper, working in sanitation. He has been in the United States for 15 years.
“Everybody believes that all of us are illegal, but I respect the law, I respect everybody,” he said, adding that he believes Trump is using racist rhetoric.
“Racism,” he said. “That’s America.”
The recent Telemundo poll showed that 34 percent of Latinos in Florida, another key swing state, favor Trump’s reelection. The shooting and its aftermath do not appear to have changed many opinions.
Placing groceries in her car outside a Miami supermarket, Cuban American Yuri Ricardo, 28, said she is a Republican but abstained from voting in 2016 because she did not like any of the candidates.
“Trump incites the wrong people with his rhetoric,” she said in reference to the El Paso shooting.
Ricardo, who works for an insurance company and has two sons, 4 and 12, said she owns a small handgun. But she said gun control is a top concern, believing in the right to bear arms but favoring an assault-weapons ban and a higher legal age to buy firearms.
Her second main concern is illegal immigration.
“It would be good if there could be a more organized system in place with more regulation,” she said.
Beatriz Hernández, 56, came from Cuba, where she was a doctor, six years ago. She said Trump has qualities she likes, and that his anti-immigrant rhetoric is only directed toward those who come to the country illegally and commit crimes.
“No country has open borders and allows everyone to enter,” she said.
Coming from Cuba, where people do not usually carry a firearm, she said all weapons should be limited in the United States.
“I am in favor of banning arms in all countries,” she said.
Kim Kavin in Allentown, Pa., Carmen Sesin in Miami, Lourdes Medrano in Tucson, and Scott Clement and Hannah Knowles in Washington contributed to this report.
Scott Wilson is a senior national correspondent for The Washington Post, covering California and the West. He has previously served as The Post’s national editor, chief White House correspondent, deputy assistant managing editor for foreign news, and as a correspondent in Latin America and in the Middle East. Follow Scott
Eli Rosenberg is a reporter on The Washington Post’s General Assignment team. He has worked at the New York Times and the New York Daily News. Follow Eli