NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — Conservative campaign consultant Mike Madrid had a dire warning for the thousands of Republican activists attending this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC): the rhetoric of Donald Trump will doom the GOP with Latino voters for “at least a generation.”
“This is a tipping point year,” Madrid, who worked on both of former President George W. Bush’s campaigns, cautioned. “Either we’re going to choose a model where we’re going to understand and integrate and accommodate this demographic and build a majority, or we’re going to attack it and be afraid of it, and talk about building walls. The choice is clear, folks. We’re either going to represent the emerging new America, or we’re not.”
To prove the later road would be a “disaster,” Madrid cited California, where Republicans became “irrelevant” after digging in on racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric in the early 1990s, and have yet to recover politically.
“We can’t fall into the trap we fell into in California,” he said. “We make it so easy for the other side to vilify us. There’s nothing wrong with talking about border security. There’s nothing wrong with talking about immigration reform. But don’t dehumanize people and use this angry rhetoric. Don’t talk to people the way you wouldn’t talk to your family. There’s no silver bullet words, but don’t say bad things. Don’t offend people.”
This November, Latinos will make up a higher percentage of the electorate than ever before, especially in key swing states like Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. There will be more than 27 million eligible Latino voters this fall, and more than half of them are millenials. Polls this year have repeatedly shown these voters have unfavorable views of Donald Trump as Trump continues to advance towards the Republican nomination.
The Pew Research Center found that about two-thirds of Latino voters say that it’s extremely important or very important to have changes in federal immigration policies to pass new immigration legislation soon. The same poll found that about one-third of Latino voters say that they would not vote for a candidate if they disagreed with the candidate on immigration policy.
Republican presidential candidates may need anywhere between 42 and 47 percent of the Latino vote, especially in key battleground states like Virginia, Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, and Colorado, the polling group Latino Decisions found. The party won less than 30 percent in 2012.
We’re either going to represent the emerging new America, or we’re not.
Madrid thinks Trump could still win the White House without Latinos if he is able to energize and turn out a huge number of blue collar white voters. But he told ThinkProgress this would doom the GOP in the long term.
“What happens will be exactly what happened in California in 1994, where Pete Wilson jumped on the immigration issue and won [the governor’s race], but it was the last time for 20 years Republicans won any congressional seats,” he said. “The damage being done now could last for at least a generation, if not longer.”
Madrid spoke to a packed room at the annual conservative conference, and many younger attendees, including Wesleyan University student Joseph Nucci, told ThinkProgress his warning resonated with them.
“My grandfather is from Mexico. He got his green card 15 years ago,” he said. “I grew up going to Christmas with half the house speaking Spanish and eating tamales and stuff, so it’s nice to hear that other people are worried about this too.”
Stephen Hill, another Republican voter attending CPAC, noted that Republican leaders are also offensive when speaking about African Americans like him. “Too often, they focus on the negative,” he said. “They focus on us being low-income, poorly educated, our incarceration rates and recidivism rates. Any time minority issues are being discussed, it’s connected to those problems. Why not talk about the successes, the Ph.Ds? The party really needs to reverse this.”
Nucci says he sees the Latino community “absolutely” turned off by the rhetoric coming from leading Republican candidates, who have characterized Latino immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, and criminals. “Donald Trump isn’t even my least favorite candidate and that’s saying something,” Nucci said with a pained laugh. “I think Trump says things just to say them, but Ted Cruz actually believes them.”
Like Madrid, Nucci believes Republicans can win over Latinos by packaging the same policies with different, less harsh language. “Get it together,” he sighed. “I had an English teacher who said, the reader is never wrong. Well, the listener is never wrong. If people hear something as offensive, it’s offensive.”
Madrid agreed, but added that the GOP will also fail to win minority voters until they begin to talk seriously about addressing poverty.
“Very few Republicans have in-depth, detailed urban policy program, talking about homelessness, drug addiction, bringing in investment to alleviate poverty,” he said. “We stopped talking about that stuff with Jack Kemp. Paul Ryan is bringing that discussion back, but until the party has a national poverty policy, I don’t think we’ll see significant growth with African American, Latino, Asian Pacific, and other ethnic voters.”
Other Latino conservatives noted that Republican Party leaders have damaged themselves with Latino voters by waiting so long to strongly condemn Donald Trump.
“We came out in October and said we won’t support him if he’s the nominee,” Mario Lopez with the Hispanic Leadership Fund told ThinkProgress. “I’m proud that conservative Hispanics didn’t need eight months to see that this guy is a demagogue. We saw it right away, literally from day one. But more and more people are waking up. Now you’re seeing thoughtful conservative movement leaders like Paul Ryan and Ben Sasse step up and say, ‘Hey, this is not who we are.’ And you’ll probably see more of that going forward.”
After losing the White House in 2012, Republican Party leaders put together an autopsy report that warned the party must embrace immigration reform and improve their outreach to voters of color lest they risk slipping into political obsolescence. The party then proceeded to ignore those recommendations, and now have a GOP frontrunner bolstered by white supremacists.
Lopez said he hopes it isn’t too late for the party to turn the ship around and save themselves with voters of color, adding that he hopes the GOP doesn’t need “eight years of Hillary” to convince them of the error of their ways.