By Alexander Bolton - 11/30/15 06:00 AM EST
Hispanic Republican leaders shun Trump
Prominent Hispanic Republicans are holding out hope that business mogul Donald TrumpDonald TrumpThe Trail 2016: Biting the hand that feeds him Morris: Trump's key to victory: Men Budowsky: The campaign from hell MORE won’t win the party’s presidential nomination.
They are worried that his incendiary rhetoric on immigration will sour Hispanics on the GOP and sink the party’s chances of taking back the White House.
The concerns of Hispanic Republicans are part of a larger panic that has gripped the party establishment as Trump has continued to dominate the polls with the Iowa caucuses nearing.
Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) says Trump would have to apologize for his comments about immigrants before he would even consider backing him.
“He would have to start by apologizing to all the people he’s offended and for the mockery that he’s made out of the presidential campaign,” said Curbelo, who called Trump’s possible election to the White House “a bad thing for the country.”
“It would do a great harm to our country and further erode the trust of the American people in their government,” he added.
Republican insiders fear Trump would drive away Hispanic voters, a growing electoral bloc especially important in battleground states such as Florida, Colorado and Nevada.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said many of her constituents are angry at Trump, something that bodes ill for the turnout of Hispanic Republicans if Trump wins the nomination.
“I represent an immigrant-rich community. Many of us are not happy with those comments,” she said. “Some don’t think that’s a problem. I do.”
Ros-Lehtinen, who backs former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary, said Trump should apologize, but noted, “He’s his own man.”
She added, however, that she would support the party’s nominee, no matter who it is.
“Whoever’s the nominee, I’m going to support him,” she said.
Former Florida Sen. Mel Martínez (R), who served as former President George W. Bush’s secretary of housing and urban development, said he hopes Trump doesn’t win.
“I’m not ready to endorse Trump, let’s put it that way,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope there are some better choices for us.”
Martínez supports Jeb Bush and contrasted his track record in public office to Trump’s lack of political experience.
“I think it’s about readiness to be president,” he said.
Even if Hispanic officeholders and elder statesmen come around to Trump, they warn that many rank-and-file voters will be less likely to be swayed.
Conservative Hispanic leaders say Trump’s greatest sin was to characterize Mexican immigrants at his campaign launch as drug dealers and rapists.
Since then, he has become embroiled in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit with Univision, the nation’s leading Hispanic news network, after it pulled out of a deal to broadcast his Miss Universe pageant.
In August, Trump’s campaign staff kicked Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of an event, and in October his campaign barred Univision reporters from attending another event.
Some conservatives have rallied to Trump’s side.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly accused Ramos of being “an enabler” during a heated interview in which Ramos rejected tougher penalties for immigrants who enter the country illegally after being convicted of a felony.
The issue blew up over the summer after Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant with several felony convictions, shot and killed a young woman in San Francisco. He had been deported from the U.S. five times.
Still, Trump’s comments and actions sting many conservative Hispanic leaders who have traditionally played an important role in mobilizing voters to the polls in general elections.
“His most egregious action that stands for the primary reason why he is persona non grata with the Latino community, including the Latino conservative community, is the engagement of demeaning, condescending, spiteful rhetoric as it pertains to the immigrant community,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Conservative Hispanic leaders warned at a press conference before a Republican presidential debate in Boulder, Colo., in October that the GOP would attract few Hispanic votes if Trump headed it.
More than three-quarters of Hispanics surveyed this month by the Public Religion Research Institute reported an unfavorable view of Trump. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents said they have a “very unfavorable” opinion of him.
Rodriguez said that while some Hispanic leaders may reluctantly endorse him if he wins the nomination, most voters will likely stay at home on Election Day.
“So you’ll have the Latino Hispanic conservative leaders saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to have to support him, the alternative is Hillary Clinton.’ But then you’ll have the followers saying, ‘I don’t think we can cross that bridge,’” he said.
The Republican Party has traditionally relied on Hispanic leaders and groups — such as the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Hispanic Leadership Fund — to mobilize voters on their behalf.
“Will there be one or two groups that could support him? I guess. But I can tell you that the immense majority of Hispanic conservative Republican groups would oppose him, would not campaign for him,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.
“These are the main groups the Republican Party and campaigns depend on to engage Latino voters. So if you don’t have their support, you’re going to have to mount your own effort,” he added.
Former Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who served 18 years in the House, grimaced at the notion of Trump winning the nomination.
“Ugh. I don’t even want to go there. I can’t see myself even there. In other words, I refuse to accept that possibility,” he said.
His younger brother, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), said he would back Trump if it came down to a contest between him and Clinton but held out hope Bush might right his floundering campaign.
“I will support whoever the nominee is. I think there’s nobody more qualified than Jeb Bush. I think he is ready from day one,” he said. “That’s who I’m convinced will be our nominee.
“It’s a long, difficult process and I don’t think it’s going to be Donald Trump,” he added.
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a prominent conservative who has played a key role in the immigration debate in Congress, said he would support anyone who wins the Republican nomination.
“They’re going to be better than any Democrat,” he said.
But Labrador added that Trump needs to start thinking more about how to win a general election, instead of just rallying the conservative base.
“I think if [Trump] wants to win a general election, he needs to figure out how to win a general election. But I’m not going to be telling him what comments he needs to walk back. He just better look within his heart and figure it out,” Labrador said.