Clinton team calls bull on Trump’s Latino gambit – Politico
The 2016 election cycle offered Republicans a moment to peel Latino voters away from the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. This is not that moment.
While Donald Trump dashes south to meet with Mexico’s unpopular president — a man with even worse favorability numbers than the GOP nominee — and prepares to deliver a more measured position on border security and immigration, Democrats and Republicans alike dismiss as fantasy any notion that the GOP nominee could boost his margins among Hispanic voters in a significant way.
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“You can’t denigrate a group for 15 solid months and turn around two months before the election and go, ‘Oh, never mind,’” said veteran Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who worked for Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
Asked what opportunity Trump has now to win over Latino voters, Ayres said, “Absolutely none.”
That’s certainly not because Clinton has found unusual success among this group of highly motivated voters, either. Polling has exposed a small vulnerability for Clinton among Hispanics, who view her less favorably than they view the Democratic party overall. There’s an even more pronounced weakness among Latino voters whose dominant language is English, not Spanish.
But after launching his campaign by saying Mexico is sending rapists and criminals to the United States, promising to institute a deportation force, suggesting an American-born judge of Mexican heritage couldn’t be unbiased, and tweeting about taco bowls, Trump’s hastily organized Mexican jaunt before a late-night Phoenix speech is viewed by Democrats as too little, too late to matter to their Electoral College calculations.
Indeed, with Trump’s favorability rating among Latino voters underwater by 43 points, according to a July Bendixen & Amandi survey with Univision, Clinton’s team hasn’t felt the need to begin buying Spanish-language advertising, even in the Hispanic-heavy swings states of Florida and Nevada, which remain close.
“You can’t undo in a meeting or in a day, or frankly in 70 days, what you built to prop you up over the course of 14 months,” said Lorella Praeli, Clinton’s Latino vote director, as Trump flew to meet Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. “Everyone knows who Trump is and what Trump stands for. He can’t change that.”
But Trump’s historically low poll numbers among Latinos distract from Clinton’s potential weaknesses with this same group of voters.
Trump is underperforming the Republican brand, which is 26 points underwater compared with his 43, according to the Amandi & Bendixen poll. But Clinton is faring the same relative to her party, standing at plus-39 among Latinos compared with plus-46 for the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, 38 percent of Latinos who were asked in English have unfavorable ratings of Clinton, compared with just 21 percent of Spanish speakers — suggesting an opportunity for Republicans to appeal to English-first Hispanic voters.
“Waves don’t just come at the touch of a button or because a political party desires them, there have to be conditions in place to allow a wave to ride, crest and come ashore. Donald Trump is the type of candidate who could be a wave candidate — the vast majority of Hispanic voters find him to be racist and objectionable,” said Fernand Amandi, whose polling firm worked for President Barack Obama in 2012. “However, there also has to be a candidate on the other side who inspires the voters and policies, who inspires participation.”
Trump’s minus-67 rating is fully 124 points below Clinton’s plus-57 among Spanish speakers, partially explaining why Clinton’s team has yet to put money into Spanish-language advertising, months later in the cycle than when Obama started in 2012. That’s still true even as Trump overperforms his national averages in Nevada and Florida, which are essentially must-wins for him.
Trump’s best-case scenario with Hispanic voters would be to win enough of them to unbalance Clinton’s coalition of nonwhite voting groups.
“In some states where Latinos have a high representation we have to win with a coalition, and that coalition is usually Latinos, African-Americans, women and working-class voters,” said Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who has helped Clinton’s team with its turnout program in multiple states. “In some states that’s going to happen, in Florida that’s going to happen.”
In other words, while Clinton does have weaknesses, Democrats feel relieved — and Republicans fume — that Trump has not yet proven to be the man to take advantage of them.
“The demographic trends make obvious that you can no longer win a presidential election in the new American electorate of 2016 with just white voters. You have to get a significant proportion of nonwhite voters — especially Hispanics, who in the past have voted, over 40 percent, for Republican nominee George W. Bush in 2004,” Ayres said, making the case that Rubio could have competed for a majority of the Hispanic vote (Jeb Bush also had relatively high favorability ratings among Latino voters).
“Republicans are not going to win a majority of nonwhite voters, but the margins matter dramatically, especially in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. By running against Hispanics for 15 months, Donald Trump has almost guaranteed that he will do less well in that community than Mitt Romney did in 2012, and that’s the kiss of death in the modern American electorate.”
The numbers, indeed, are grim for Trump: He trailed Clinton 67 to 19 percent among Latino voters in the July poll, lagging behind the 27 Romney won in 2012 — before his Republican Party concluded it needed a far more robust Latino outreach effort. To make matters worse for Trump, signs point to an engaged and motivated slice of the electorate: 70 percent of respondents to the July survey said this election was more important to them than previous ones.
Meanwhile, the Republican nominee’s sky-high name recognition and ubiquitous presence on television news has all-but-ensured that likely voters are aware of his positions, regardless of any policy “softening” he may roll out in Phoenix or agreement he may tout in Mexico City, said a handful of Democrats.
“I’m in the position that this is nothing more than a deliberate attempt by Trump to chase some headlines and distract people from his actual position,” said Praeli of the GOP standard-bearer’s call to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and build a border wall. “I heard his son, and I heard Governor [Mike] Pence, say the same thing: whether it’s to soften his rhetoric or a meeting with President Peña Nieto, the center of his policy remains the same.”
Anyway, insist Democrats, it’s unlikely that Trump is suddenly going to look more palatable to Hispanics after his quick Mexican trip that could feature a big confrontation with Peña Nieto — whose own domestic approval rating was down to 23 percent in a recent poll conducted by the Reforma newspaper. After all, Trump’s favorability rating in Mexico, according to a recent poll from the El Financiero paper, is 2 percent.
If anything, he could use an uncomfortable standoff to prove to his base of anti-illegal-immigration white voters that he’s serious about confronting Mexico. But even if it’s not a play directly to Trump’s core voters, it could still be an attempt to file down his sharp edges among women and educated white voters, said Ayres, likening Trump’s effort to his outreach to black voters in recent weeks.
“Perhaps the strategic play is not for more nonwhites,” he said, “but moderate Republicans who have yet to get on the Trump train because they don’t want to support someone perceived as being racist.”