by Josh Dawsey, Washington Post
In an effort to buttress President Trump’s reelection chances, the Trump campaign is reaching out to an unlikely group: Latino and Hispanic voters.
In recent weeks, the campaign has made several hires to court these voters and placed targeted ads in Florida. Meanwhile, Trump conducted his first presidential interview with Spanish-language media giant Telemundo, and Vice President Pence flew to Miami on Tuesday to officially launch the “Latinos for Trump” coalition.
“All Americans everywhere draw inspiration from the Latino Americans’ steadfast love of liberty,” Pence said, appearing in front of a ballroom crowd.
The president’s aides and advisers said the effort to target Latino voters reflects the need to expand the president’s base of support beyond his most fervent backers to prevail again in key swing states such as Florida as well as a belief that Trump can make a compelling case based on the performance of the economy.
“It’s absolutely critical to his reelection to win over some Hispanic voters, and he can do it by being a little more open on some of these immigration issues. He doesn’t need a majority. He just needs to move the needle,” said Chris Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend. “He has too many people around him telling him to stick to the base when he owns the base.”
But Trump faces an enormous challenge given his fraught relationship with the Latino community that began when he launched his campaign in 2015 by disparaging Mexican immigrants and continues through his frequent warnings about the dangers posed by Central American migrants trying to enter the United States across the southern border.
For many of the president’s opponents, the outreach efforts are viewed as a cruel joke amid the backdrop of the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, his harsh attacks on immigrants and threats of deportation. Melissa Mark-Viverito, the interim president of the liberal Latino Victory Fund, said she expects a record number of Latino voters to show up at the polls to cast their ballots against Trump.
“Every day, it’s an onslaught against our community. We know we’re under attack. We know nothing good is going to come out of a second term of this administration,” she said. “It’s a slap in our face.”
Polling released this week by Telemundo underscored the challenge facing the campaign in attracting Latino and Hispanic voters. In the key swing state of Florida, 34 percent of Hispanic voters would like to see Trump reelected, while 56 percent would prefer to replace him with a Democrat, according to the survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Strategies.
The numbers were even less favorable to Trump in other states, although they are mostly solid Democratic territories.
In California, 26 percent of Hispanic voters would like to see Trump reelected, while 66 percent would prefer a Democrat. In Texas, 25 percent would like to see him returned to office, while 69 percent want a Democrat. And in the New York metro area, 19 percent want Trump reelected, while 73 percent prefer a Democrat.
Trump won 28 percent of the Latino vote in 2016, compared with more than 40 percent for George W. Bush in 2004 — though he essentially matched Mitt Romney’s 2012 total.
About 29 million Latino voters are now registered to vote, and almost 12 million voted in the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Pew Research Center.
Trump’s supporters say the president should frame his message around the economy and national security. Hispanic unemployment is at historic lows, and campaign officials say many Hispanic voters even appreciate the president’s tough immigration rhetoric. They declined to show data supporting that assertion, and some of the campaign’s early data indicates the president is in a disappointing spot among Latino voters, according to campaign officials who were granted anonymity to discuss the issue.
The campaign on Wednesday bought two full-page ads in the Miami Herald and the Nuevo Herald, making an economic argument for “Latinos for Trump.”
The ads also argued a point campaign officials often make. “President Trump is clear on immigration: Millions have followed the law to come to America, new immigrants should too,” the ad read.
But even some of the president’s supporters are skeptical about the campaign’s ability to attract more Latino voters.
Al Zapanta, who leads the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said he supported Trump in 2016 and is helping lobby for passage of the recent trade deal struck with Mexico and Canada. He has recently visited the White House for meetings with senior officials, he said, but not the president.
“The Republican Party has really missed the opportunity to bring in the Hispanic and Latino vote,” Zapanta said. “The party still hasn’t decided they really want to make that a reality.”
Zapanta said he believed Trump could secure more support and hoped he would. “I haven’t seen at this point that focus,” he said.
Officials have been trying to sell donors on the idea that Trump can be more competitive with Latino voters, with campaign manager Brad Parscale saying during a recent presentation at the Willard Hotel that the campaign expected to secure more support from the community, according to people familiar with his remarks.
The campaign recently hired a coalitions director to build support among Latino communities, and it has hired a national press secretary to handle Latino members of the media. Hannah Castillo, the coalitions director, is expected to hire at least a dozen people, campaign officials said. About two dozen community and political leaders in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada and other states are on board, according to the campaign.
Also on board is Alex Garcia, the RNC’s Latino outreach director in Florida in 2018, to lead the Trump campaign in the state. Advisers are building advertisements to target voters in Spanish, and they have targeted particular communities in Florida for messaging.
In Venezuela, Trump and his aides see policies that are appreciated by Cuban Americans — even though the effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro has stalled, and Trump has grown frustrated.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has cast his legal immigration plan as a messaging device to the Latino community, White House officials said. But the plan has picked up scant support while the president continues to use incendiary rhetoric.
Still, campaign aides said they believe there have been heartening signs. At an El Paso event, much of the crowd was Hispanic and in from New Mexico, officials said, giving the campaign hope they could play in a state where Trump lost by a large margin in 2016.
Ruddy said the campaign must do more to convince Latino news outlets to change coverage of Trump. “Only a handful of media outlets really control news to the Latino population, and they are almost entirely nonstop, anti-him,” he said.
Doug Deason, a prominent Trump donor, said he recently spoke with the president about Hispanic voters at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Deason said he encouraged the president to occasionally tweet about how much he loves Hispanic voters and what he has done for them.
“They’re just concerned. Does he like us? So he needs to make it really clear. I told him, you have to let them know you love them,” Deason said. “I know you love them, but you have to let them know.”
Trump seemed surprised, he said.
“He was shocked to hear that,” Deason said. Trump, according to Deason, then turned to Kellyanne Conway, his former campaign manager and now a senior White House adviser, and said “You got that, Kellyanne?”
“She said, ‘Yes sir, I got it,’ ” Deason said.
Jenna Johnson, John Wagner and Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.
Josh Dawsey is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. He previously covered the White House for Politico, and New York City Hall and New Jersey.