By Rafael Bernal
May 10, 2016
With Donald Trump as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Democrats see a chance to turn Hispanic voters away from the Republican Party this election — and perhaps for years to come.
They are seizing on every opportunity to fan the flames, with an eye toward winning the White House, taking back the Senate and cutting into the GOP majority in the House.
"I’m going to make every Republican that I work against eat a Trump steak and make sure they know it was made by Donald Trump," said Chuck Rocha, president of Solidarity Strategies, a Hispanic political consulting firm that runs campaigns for Democrats nationwide.
Surveys indicate Trump has enormous ground to make up with Hispanics as he shifts toward the general election. In a recent poll by America’s Voice and Latino Decisions, 79 percent of Hispanics said they had an unfavorable view of the businessman, who famously launched his campaign talking about Mexico sending criminals into the U.S.
Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said Democrats know their two largest voting blocs are Hispanics and unmarried female voters, so "they are going to do everything possible between now and the election to show that Trump is risky and dangerous" to those groups.
Democrats have shown they will be quick on the trigger when any opportunity arises to attack Trump on issues important to Hispanics.
On Thursday, for example, the Republican National Committee issued a congratulatory statement on Cinco de Mayo. The brief statement, re-worded from the previous year, did not include the word "welcoming," featured in 2015's version.
Democrats pounced, arguing the omission spoke volumes.
"What Republicans don’t get, as they proved today by leaving out mentions of being a welcoming country in their Cinco de Mayo statement, is that Mexican-Americans are not only immigrants but rather a far larger share are Americans."
A similar attack was launched against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was asked Sunday whether he would disavow Trump's statement that Mexican immigrants are "rapists." He began his response by saying, "Oh, I don't know."
Democrats quickly began sharing video of McCain's response. Arizona has a large Hispanic population, and McCain is up for reelection this year in what he has said could be the toughest race of his life.
"They just keep on shooting themselves in the foot, and we’re making sure to hold them accountable," said Walter Garcia, western regional communications director for the Democratic National Committee. "I don't know if the Republican strategy is to make our lives easier."
Some Hispanic Republicans have moved to distance themselves from Trump.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who is fighting off the former incumbent he unseated in 2014, has repeatedly disavowed Trump, whom he commonly refers to, collectively with Democrat Hillary Clinton, as "the two presumptive nominees."
"Democrats don’t want to offer ideas, substance or an agenda, they want to get into a political game," Curbelo said. "Both presumptive nominees are so unpopular that I think we’ll see an uptick in ticket splitting."
Split-ticket voting is precisely what the Democrats want to avoid, hoping a strong presidential showing will provide gains in the House and deliver the Senate.
"They are confident Donald Trump is going to go down like the Titanic," said O'Connell, who believes that split tickets are at an all-time low and "candidates running statewide are only going to be able to run within 5 points of Trump and Clinton."
Rocha agreed, saying the last few elections have been the first time he's "seen national races affect local races at this level."
The outcome of the battle for the Hispanic vote is likely to have long-term consequences. Without the voting bloc, it will be increasingly difficult for either party to win the White House.
"Whether Trump wins or loses this election, the Republicans have to realize that for long-term viability they have to make inroads with Hispanics," O'Connell said.
Although O'Connell believes Democrats will have the demographic's vote for at least the next two electoral cycles, he said the party risks overreaching.
"Demographics is an opportunity, not a destiny. Young Latinos act like young white millennials, that’s why you see Sanders attracting young Latinos," Rocha said.
Trump has no rivals left in the Republican race, while Clinton is still battling Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. That leaves Clinton in an awkward position with Sanders's voters, many of whom are younger and skeptical of her candidacy.
"I think the key is the younger Latinos," Rocha said. "Clinton has proven she’s a stalwart of the older Latino and African American voters. Do young voters show up? Either motivated to vote against Trump or for Hillary. That’s where it’s decided."
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