Donald in the House?
Latinos Brace for President Trump
The epic battle pitting Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump is already one for the history books. A former First Lady and the first female presidential nominee of a major political party versus a real estate tycoon and reality TV star who has never run for office. Who would have thunk it?
This election has been called one of the most significant in modern history, not just because of the candidates but the issues at stake. Whoever emerges victorious in November will have to make a number of decisions of particular importance to Latinos, including reforming immigration, increasing the federal minimum wage, and selecting Supreme Court justices, to name just a few.
As this issue goes to press, Clinton appears to be solidifying her lead, not just in national polls but in key battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, and Trump appears to be running against himself (or perhaps the media) rather than the Democratic nominee, and losing bigly. But the race may well tighten in the home stretch, and the possibility of El Donaldo in the Casa Blanca is very real. LATINO Magazine spoke with several key community leaders and activists across the country and from both sides of the political aisle to ask for their perspectives on what a Trump presidency would mean for the Latino community.
Not surprisingly, many Latino Democrats are sounding the alarm.
“A Trump presidency would be a nightmare. It’s almost unthinkable.
Donald Trump has no experience in our community,” says Nellie Gorbea, Rhode Island Secretary of State, who adds that on the issues that the Latino community cares about, Trump gets a failing grade. “Mr. Trump has made it clear that his limited vision for America does not include Latinos or anyone other than himself.”
Civil rights activist and United Farmworkers Union co-founder Dolores Huerta says in all the years she’s been involved in community issues and politics, she never seen a more divisive candidate than Trump or a more divisive campaign. “A Donald Trump administration would be a very dangerous presidency and an absolute disaster for our community. He talks about building a wall, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. He attacks us and many of his supporters think that’s okay. That is very bad for us,” she warns.
Esau Torres is a musician and community activist in central California and a Hillary Clinton supporter. The majority of residents in his hometown are Latinos and he says he fears that Trump’s rhetoric has given “permission” to those who don’t like Latinos and other people of color to act out against them. “I think there would be an increase in hate crimes and a lot of fights and attacks against the Latino community. A Trump presidency would be chaotic. We’re supposed to be about embracing each other and coming together and help our country become a better place, and a Trump presidency represents the opposite of that,” he said.
That climate of fear is real and should be taken seriously, says Maribel Hastings, Senior Advisor of the immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice. “The immigrant community already lives in constant uncertainty of being deported and being separated from their families,” says Hastings, adding that Trump’s proposal to build a wall between along the U.S.-Mexico border is “unrealistic and costly, and the image this shows to the rest of world is very detrimental.”
Several Republican Latinos, however, say Trump would be good for the economy and the focus should be on what he could do as president.
“Under this [Obama] administration the Hispanic community has been suffering from high unemployment rates and a lack of access to good paying jobs. A Republican administration provides an opportunity to Latinos to have access to more and better jobs, which would help reduce the unemployment rate among our community,” says Carlos Mercader, Deputy Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. “Even though many of Trump’s comments have been offensive I am really worried about the policies that Hillary Clinton is proposing for America and for our community. From a weak position towards the fight against ISIS and its radical manifestation of Islamic extremism, to the continuation of the current wave of overregulation and excessive taxation of businesses, I believe a Republican administration would be much better for our nation, as it proposes specific measures to tackle these issues.”
Ken Oliver-Méndez is a former congressional staffer and is currently with the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group in Washington, D.C. Oliver-Méndez says the economy and national security must be at the top of the list for the Latino community, and Trump would be the best of the candidates to tackle those issues “For Donald Trump as well as for most Latinos, jobs and the economy, along with maintaining law and order and keeping the population of the United States safe from our country’s radical jihadist enemies, are top of mind in this election. These are issues where the Latino community has not seen the results we deserve during the past eight years of Democratic rule, and which bolster the case for voting Republican for a change,” he said. “A Trump administration holds the promise for Latino families of better educational options for our children through school choice and voucher programs, which Democrats, beholden to teachers unions, have consistently opposed.”
But not all Republicans agree. Luis Alvarado is a political consultant in Los Angeles who disagrees with those backing the Republican presidential nominee, saying Trump is taking his party down the wrong path and losing the important Latino vote in the process. “I’m saddened that Donald Trump has doubled down and gone after the extreme side of our base with a message of darkness and hatred. He hasn’t demonstrated any level of competence in being able to solve any of the problems he easily points out as being the issues that are hurting our country. At the end of the day he’s just an incompetent showman who’s doing this for his personal ego,” he said, adding, “A Trump presidency would diminish the standing of America in the world and would diminish the meaning of ‘government’ for what we know it to be as a safety net for those who believe in this country.”
And in a recent Univision op-ed, Rosario Marin, appointed as Treasurer by George W. Bush and a veteran of five GOP presidential campaigns, strongly endorsed Clinton. “I will stand up for my community against the menace of a tyrannical presidency that does not value the countless contributions of immigrants,” Marin wrote. “There is too much at stake both domestically and abroad to have a thoughtless individual at the helm of the most important economy in the world.”
One of the main concerns for Latino community leaders is that Trump has not offered any specifics on what he would do. “I don’t see any of the issues that we care about getting any attention. He talks about helping the working class but that is largely an empty promise,” says Mickey Ibarra, President and Founder of the Ibarra Strategy Group in Washington, D.C. Ibarra is a Democratic stalwart who served as Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the Clinton administration. “We really don’t have a lot of details of what he would do with the economy. He speaks in slogans and in a way that is so shallow that it’s very difficult to discern,” he adds.
Democratic consultant Melisa Díaz says what concerns her the most is Trump’s lack of details on issues that affect the Latino community: “He’s not like former presidential candidates McCain or Romney who you could disagree with but you knew where they stood on the issues and priorities. Donald Trump hasn’t presented any solid proposals or solutions. We’re talking about a president who would be completely unpredictable. He’s someone who says one thing one day and the complete opposite the next day, and that’s terrible.”
Would a Trump presidency affect the number of Latinos who would work for him? Latino appointees have historically been few for both political parties, and would likely be lower in a Trump presidency, says Ibarra, himself a political appointee: “I think he would have a hard time finding Latinos to come work for him. It’s hard for me to imagine that Latinos that our community would feel comfortable and proud of would be attracted to a Trump administration, which is the antithesis of inclusion, diversity, sensitivity, and empathy, all the values I identify with.”
It’s a sentiment Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) concurs with: “He’s alienated immigrants, Hispanics, Muslims. He’s going to have one of the whitest administrations in the recent history of the country. You’d have to get pretty down in the bottom of the barrel to find any Latinos who would be working for him. I can’t imagine any of the Bush Latino appointees coming back at that time.”
Wilkes says he is also concerned about how a Trump presidency would affect the immigrant community. “If he were elected I think he would feel obligated to deliver on that particular pledge [of building a wall]. That was part of his campaign from the very beginning and it’s what has attracted a lot of the constituents that he has around him. He’d put some type of effort even if later he would complain that Congress or the Supreme Court stopped him from moving forward with it.”
But should Trump become president, Congress and groups such as LULAC and others could act as the stop-gap measure to prevent him from moving forward on building a wall and undertaking other issues detrimental to the Latino community, and that is a bit of a silver lining here.“He’ll have a way of not doing as much as he says he’s going to do by blaming it on others for obstructing him,” says Wilkes, who also believes that a majority of Latinos would not benefit from Trump’s economic policies.“His economic advisors are all white wealthy men. That’s what you can expect his entire administration to be.”
The Latino artistic community, which has enjoyed for many years a close relationship with the White House, would take a hit under a Trump administration, says Félix Sánchez, Chairman and Co-Founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts: “The Latino community is clearly the corner piece of his campaign in denigrating us and misrepresenting us and creating this anti-immigrant, anti-Latino message. That is what has really propelled him to where he is now, and because of that I think there would be an absolute brownout of Latino artistic cooperation. I cannot see anyone embracing him or coming in [to the White House] and participating with a President Trump because of all the offensive and derogatory ways in which he’s demeaned our community.”
One concern is that President Trump would discourage corporate giving to Latino non-profits. But according to Wilkes, funding for organizations and groups that advocate on behalf of the Latino community could actually go up should Trump make it to the White House.
“As people realize we are the last line of defense from Trump enacting some of the repressive policies, there may be an increase in the level of support, especially from those interested in strengthening our ability to push back. The LULACs of the world are needed more when you have someone like Trump around.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Ibarra, who adds that he doesn’t think a Trump presidency will dry up corporate donations: “Corporate funding is private. It’s not Donald Trump’s money or the government’s. I think many of the corporate partners who have been engaged with the Latin community will continue to stay engaged, and perhaps given the additional threat to the community of a Trump administration, maybe they’ll even give more. A greater threat sometimes means a greater response.”
Ibarra adds that even though he thinks a Trump presidency would be detrimental to the Latino community, it wouldn’t be the end of the world:
“We can also overstate the impact to some degree. The fact of the matter is, life in America will go on. We are not an imperial presidency. We have a Congress, a Supreme Court; that sets limits on the power of the presidency for a good reason. What Donald Trump is doing is helping remind all of that good reason.”
Estuardo Rodríguez, a principal at the Raben Group, admits that “it’ll be a very anxious environment in Washington” but argues that a Trump presidency might even create common ground: “Republicans and Democrats may have to come together as they haven’t before to stop him from causing great damage to our national security, our economic well-being, and our global competitiveness. ... I think there will be broader coalitions under a Trump presidency that will be coming together simply to push back on some of the extreme measures that he will attempt to move forward on.”
Finally, another factor of concern would be the impact of a Trump presidency on Latino media. Throughout the campaign, Trump has repeatedly clashed with Latino journalsts such as Jorge Ramos, whom he once threw out of a press conference, and denied access to Latino media companies. According to María Peña, the Washington Correspondent for La Opinión: “I fear that in a Trump Administration reporters would have a hard time accessing information. He would continue to lash out against reporters who write negative stuff about his presidency and I think that Latino reporters would ... have an even harder time being called on for questions. ...Trump has always attacked the media, especially if he’s getting negative coverage, so I wouldn’t be surprised if covering him would be harder.”
Kristian Ramos, the Hispanic Media Outreach Manager for Media Matters, notes that Trump has not done a single Spanish-language interview in a year. As he sums it up: “If the way Trump has run his campaign is any indication, a potential Trump administration could very well freeze out large segments of mainstream and Latino press while relying on right-wing outlets like Fox News and Breitbart.”
Under a Trump administration, which Latinos would serve as presidential appointees, or in the Cabinet? The answer might be found in the newly formed “National Hispanic Advisory Council For Trump,” which first met with the Republican nominee at Trump Tower on August 20.The group was established through the Republican National Committee, which called Latino GOPers across the country to gauge interest in participating. A list of 24 was sent out to media outlets, and included names such as State Rep. Clarice Navarro fom Colorado; Pastor Marco Bramnick from Florida; former SBA Deputy Administrator and UPS executive Jovita Carranza; and former Texas Congressman Henry Bonilla.
But many of those on the list did not attend, citing scheduling conflicts, and finding attendees willing to speak about it on the record was difficult. So it’s unclear who actually attended.
Grace Flores-Hughes is a longtime Republican activist and a presidential appointee in the Reagan administration and well as in both Bush presidencies. She says it wasn’t an easy decision to back Trump but he is the party nominee and sitting on the sidelines is not something she is willing to do. “It’s the will of the people. They selected him. And we have choices. Do we support the nominee, do we sit it out, or stay in the party and continue to badmouth the nominee. If we sit it out and say I’m not going to support him and what if he gets elected, then you have no input into the right direction to take our community.” Flores-Hughes added that she wanted to be at the meeting but was unable to because of a prior commitment. “But if I can, I’ll be at any future meetings.”
One of the most noteworthy points about the advisory committee is the inclusion of several Latinos who had been adamantly against Trump since he formally announced his candidacy last year. Massey Villareal, a Republican business leader in Texas, was a very vocal critic of Trump, going as far last year as signing on to a letter to Trump calling him out on his comments about Latino immigrants, and backing Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Villareal said he “reevaluated” his role in the campaign and is backing Trump for pretty much the same reason Flores-Hughes is---to ensure a seat at the table.
“Donald Trump was not my first choice, and I will not apologize for anything he said, and I stand behind the fact that I don’t like that kind of rhetoric,” he told LATINO Magazine. “But as an advocate of the Latino community I need to be in the room. Change happens from the inside. I support Trump in the hope that he will find that this community is not what he has said in the past that it has been. I think it’s more about being a cheerleader for my community rather than be a cheerleader for Trump. He needs to hear from people of reason and he is allowing us to come to the table and talk with him about this. I’m not a lap dog for this party and I owe it to my community to be vocal on the issues.”
Like Flores-Hughes, Villareal says he wasn’t able to attend the meeting because of a scheduling conflict, but would try to be at any subsequent gatherings. Also on the list from Texas was San Antonio-based International Bank of Commerce executive Eddie Aldrete, who could not attend, either.
But another participant who was present told The Hill that it was a very productive meeting, and that they discussed a variety of issues. “Donald Trump really has a heart for Hispanic Latino people, and that has come across,” said Ramiro Peña, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, TX. “Trump was very authentic in caring about families and not tearing families apart.”
Flores-Hughes says Trump’s recent statements on mass deportation is a direct result of that meeting with Latino GOPers and that’s why it’s essential to actively engage with the party’s candidate. “After the meeting, he’s pausing to rethink what he said about the issue of deporting millions of undocumented. That shows that we are making a difference. Who are we helping if we are not there?”
Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, and a former Bush administration official, was like Villareal a signatory to the letter criticizing Trump, and an avowed supporter of Rubio. But Aguilar said that backing Trump makes sense now because “too much is riding on this election. I don’t defend his comments [disparaging Latinos and others], but I’m more concerned about Hillary Clinton’s policies and her judicial appointments should she become president. It was a tough decision [to back him] but this is not an endorsement of his comments. If we engage constructively with the party’s candidate, we get more done.”
Other Latino Republicans aren’t buying it. Danny Vargas, a marketing executive in Virginia who is actively involved in Republican Party politics, said he had been asked to participate, but declined. Vargas asserts that he has never backed Trump and never will. “Trump is unqualified and ill prepared, and dangerous as a potential commander-in-chief,” says the former U.S. Air Force veteran. “I would not have been comfortable sitting down with him.”
Vargas believes that Trump’s recent “pivot” toward the Latino community is ineffective pandering: “It’s much too little and much too late. He spent over a year denigrating minority communities, he’s pitted people against each other, and he’s created a lake of lava and bile and acid. it’s a a cynical way to make amends and repair fences. The Latino vote at this point is a lost cause for the Republicans.”