Just 24 hours after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a Fox News town hall in Texas that he would consider “softening” his initial position on immigration (a position that clearly went more extreme than any of those from the Republican primary candidates he defeated), he was polling Sean Hannity’s audience to see what it thought about whether to deport every undocumented person in this country. The impromptu focus group had some detractors, but the vast majority of participants pretty much agreed with Trump’s new proposal, which if you really think about it, is exactly what candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush were promoting during the height of the primary season.
The same Trump who was once mocking Bush for being “weak” on immigration and slamming Rubio for betraying Republicans when he supported a Gang of Eight immigration reform bill, is now literally lifting from the Bush-Rubio playbook and presenting it as some amazing market research revelation. Never mind that Trump also made sure to tell the Hannity crowd that he will still build a bigger wall and share the same unfounded generalizations that most Latinos in this country are criminals: why has the Trump campaign made such a highly-publicized effort to shift his position from that of a “humane” deportation force to one that is more moderate in Republican circles?
The answer is simple: Trump is not winning over Latino voters. Not even close. With less than 80 days until the election, he needs to pivot and pivot quickly, even if it upsets his most fervent “send them all home” supporters.
Latest polling numbers indicate that if the election were held today, Trump would have the lowest Latino support of any presidential candidate since 1980. Right now, Mitt Romney’s 27% Latino vote support from 2012 would be a miracle for Trump. Trump is polling at Bob Dole numbers, and we all know how 1996 turned out for Republicans in their quest for the White House.
How has Trump been doing recently in polls that have sampled Latinos? Here are the latest numbers from the past three weeks:
NBC News/SurveyMonkey: Hillary Clinton 73%, Trump 22% (in May, this same poll had it at Clinton 61%, Trump 31%)
FIU/Adsmovil: Clinton 75%, Trump 13%
Fox News Latino: Clinton 66%, Trump 20%
Is it just coincidence that with Trump’s Latino numbers dropping dramatically after the conventions, not only did his campaign create a Hispanic advisory board, but his immigration views are starting to move away from the extreme alt-right and more to the right? These are not the moves of a campaign that is downplaying the importance of the Latino vote and relying solely of winning a lot white male voters, as some analysts would want to tell you. In addition, people who are following the race should examine whether Trump’s official immigration platform will indeed shift or whether calls for an end of birthright citizenship, for instance, will not change.
Yet the questions still remain: can a Trump candidacy balance a full year of enforcement-heavy rhetoric with a new tone that is more in line with conventional Republican thinking? Will Latino voters buy this change in swing states like Florida and Colorado? Will there be a “self-deportation” moment at a future debate that would end it for Trump, just like it did for Romney?
And more importantly, will Latino voters gloss over Trump’s initial words about Mexican and Latin American immigrants that earned scorn from people across all political stripes, even from members of his current Hispanic advisory board?
As this 2015 open letter from prominent Latino Republicans (including Mario Rodriguez, who is now a Hispanic advisor to Trump’s campaign) stated:
As such, not only have you lost our respect and our buying power, but you have lost our vote. We will never support you, your candidacy or your enterprises. Without the Hispanic vote you will not be the Republican nominee, much less the president of our great nation.
If not Trump then, will more Latino conservatives cozy up to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who is making “inroads” with Latino voters? It is not crazy to think that Johnson could poll better with Latino voters than Trump, as more and more Latino conservatives begin to explore Johnson’s platform.
Will Trump’s Latino numbers creep up to a Romney level (remember, Romney didn’t win in 2012) or will they hover in the Bob Dole range?
Are we seeing a Trump Latino comeback due to his two nights on Hannity or will he eventually earn the label of the politician who garnered the least amount of national Latino support in 36 years?
So far, current numbers would indicate that Trump will never regain trust with Latinos, but this election has been so unpredictable, the notion of a more “compassionate” Trump on immigration might still appeal to those Latinos who would never vote for Clinton.
Will it be enough or is it too late? If you ask Javier Palomarez of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Trump’s latest overtures won’t have any impact.
What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts to @julito77.