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Trump and California’s GOP Latinos

Latinos protesting Donald Trump at an entrance to the site of the state GOP convention in Burlingame. (Photo: Alex Matthews, Capitol Weekly)

For Latino voters in California, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigration pronouncements  present a dilemma.

But for Latino Republicans, the challenge is especially difficult.

Better than four out of five Latinos have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to an April 7 Field Poll. Those negatives are even higher than those of former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson during the height of the 1994 campaign to approve Proposition 187, which sought to crack down on illegal immigration and alienated many California Latinos

So when Trump arrived in Burlingame last week for the state GOP convention, an angry welcome was waiting for him.

Protesters shut down the street in front of the convention venue, broke down police barricades and tossed eggs at convention-goers, police and the building.

“As soon as I came out of my mother, I was baptized Democrat,” said Harry Ramos, a member of the Murrieta City Council.

The ordeal forced an unorthodox entrance for Trump, who was scheduled to  deliver a major speech to the Republican rank and file: His motorcade stopped on the stretch of 101 North behind the Hyatt Regency, and security officers escorted Trump through a fence into the hotel’s back entrance. In his opening remarks, Trump compared his experience to the plight of immigrants crossing the Mexican border.

Meanwhile, protesters outside hoping to block Trump’s nomination outside chanted in Spanish “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) as well as obscenities in both English and Spanish at the real estate mogul-turned-politician.

Trump’s inflammatory remarks about immigrants and his plan to build a wall at the Mexican border have made him deeply unpopular among Latinos, who comprise 34 percent of California’s population.

Nearly 60 percent of Latinos tend to support Democrats, while only about 18 percent favor Republicans, according to an August 2014 report by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“As soon as I came out of my mother, I was baptized Democrat,” said Harry Ramos, a member of the Murrieta City Council.

With Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the race, Trump remains the only serious contender in California’s GOP “closed” primary, which is limited to registered Republicans.

That means that Republican Latinos who oppose Trump face hard choices: They can stay home and not vote, re-register as Democrats — the deadline for that is May 23 — or vote for Cruz or Kasich, whose names still appear on the ballot.

Young Latinos are a major factor in the state’s fastest growing political demographic — unaffiliated voters, who now account for nearly a fourth of  the electorate, or 24 percent.

In a tight GOP primary, Latino Republicans could play a crucial role. Latinos represent about 858,000 of California’s 4.8 million registered Republicans.

Veteran Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, who specializes in Latino voting trends,  says Latino voters can expect to have more than six times the impact in the GOP primary than that of their white counterparts — in some areas.

This is due to California’s primary system: Each of the 53 congressional districts has three delegates, winner take all. Latino voters tend to live in geographically concentrated areas, giving them extra weight in the district-by-district tally.

So in a closely contested primary, Latino voters could have a significant say in deciding the winner. And until recently, California’s GOP primary had been expected to be close.

In the general election, while California’s population of GOP Latinos is not huge “by California standards or by Latino standards,” Madrid said, the numbers stack up well when compared with Republican populations in smaller states. That makes them a force to be reckoned with in the national Republican electorate, he added.

At the convention, Suzette Martinez, the California Republican National Hispanic Assembly’s (CARNHA) newly elected chair, talked strategy. The group is focused on community engagement, getting to know Latino voters and encouraging their involvement in conservative political positions. But the focus is not exclusively Latino: anything they can do to get more Republicans in office, they will, Martinez said.

“[Trump is] playing a different game, and it’s not a Republican game.”

For Ramos, a former Democrat, the goal is more Latino engagement overall. He hopes that once Latinos register to vote and get more involved in politics, they will find that the GOP aligns more with their values than Democrats do.

Young Latinos are a major factor in the state’s fastest growing political demographic — unaffiliated voters, who now account for nearly a fourth of the electorate, or 24 percent.

In choosing the “lesser of two evils,” the GOP is the “default evil,” but they aren’t particularly enamored with Democrats either, Madrid said.

Socially, the often-religious, family-based and tight-knit Latino communities reflect conservative values. While candidates like Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke to those values, the pervasive presence of  front-runner Trump still eroded their efforts.

Martinez, Madrid, and Ramos all said that they were unhappy with Trump’s controversial statements on Latino populations and immigration issues.

“Eighty-seven, that’s like malaria territory,” Madrid said, referring to Pete Wilson’s negatives during the Proposition 187 battle.

“But [Trump is] playing a different game, and it’s not a Republican game.”


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