Trump is doing better with Hispanics than you think

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE is performing about as well with Hispanic voters as GOP nominee Mitt Romney did in 2012, according to opinion polls — something that unsettles Democrats and surprises even some Republicans.

Skeptics had suggested that Trump would suffer a blowout among Hispanics, given that his rhetoric, on illegal immigration in particular, has been controversial.

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Trump’s promise to build a wall on the southern U.S. border and force Mexico to pay for it is perhaps the best known of his campaign pledges. And at his campaign launch in June 2015, he said people coming into the country illegally were “rapists.”

But as of right now, there is not much evidence to suggest that Trump is faring any worse among Hispanics than did Romney, who at one point argued that illegal immigrants in the United States could be persuaded to “self-­deport.”

In some places, Trump is actually outperforming Romney. In Nevada, for example, President Obama ran up a 47-point margin of victory among Hispanic voters in 2012, according to exit polls, defeating Romney 71 percent to 24 percent. A recent Marist poll in the state for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE leading among Hispanics, but by the smaller margin of 35 points, 65 percent to 30 percent.

A series of Univision polls earlier this month surveying Hispanic voters in four battleground states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Nevada — also put Trump in the same ballpark as Romney four years ago. Clinton’s lead over Trump among Hispanics in Colorado was smaller than Obama’s margin in that state in 2012.

A Bloomberg Politics "poll decoder" on Tuesday averaged several national surveys and found Clinton leading among Hispanics by 38 points. But Obama won the group by six points more in 2012, according to exit polls.

That has led some Democrats to question Clinton’s strategy. In a Washington Post report over the weekend, some suggested her campaign was too slow to begin Spanish-language advertising. 

Others are simply scratching their heads at the poll numbers or insisting that things will be different come Election Day.

Clinton “has the right team in place and I think people will ‘come home,’ ” said Chuck Rocha, a Hispanic Democratic strategist who worked as a consultant for Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersMellman: (Mis)interpreting elections Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women Rasmussen poll: Nearly three-quarters of Dems want 'fresh face' as nominee in 2020 MORE (I-Vt.) during this year’s Democratic primary. “Latino voters may not have come home yet.”

Rocha, as well as some Republicans, noted another important factor. Romney’s performance among Hispanics in 2012 was seen at the time as exceptionally bad — so much so that the Republican National Committee commissioned a “post-mortem” report after the election to examine how it could expand its support with Hispanics and other growing demographics.

In that light, Trump running apace with Romney is hardly anything to boast about. 

But it does point to the danger of Democrats thinking that Clinton can expand upon Obama’s margins with Hispanic voters to make up for an apparent lack of enthusiasm among other stalwart Democratic blocs, such as young voters.

Put simply, it may not be possible for a Republican presidential candidate to do much worse than Romney did with Hispanics.

“From what I am hearing, and from the information I am getting, there are possibly 20–25 percent of Latinos who will support Donald Trump,” said Republican Hispanic strategist Lionel Sosa. “We do have very conservative Latinos who will vote for Republicans, no matter what. There is a base there, just as there is for any group.”

Sosa, who has worked for several Republican presidents, including George W. Bush, was not speaking from the perspective of a defender of Trump. He says he will vote for Libertarian nominee Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonPoll: Older Arizona voters favor Trump Without ranked voting, Pennsylvania's slim margins hide voters' preferences If weed is no longer a crime, why are people still behind bars? MORE this year. “I consider myself a very moderate Republican,” he said. “I cannot support Donald Trump.”

Yet Sosa said that Trump’s promises to bring jobs back to the U.S., as well as his general appeal as an outsider to the political system, could have some attractiveness to a cohort of Hispanic voters, just as it has won over a part of the general population. 

He suggested Trump’s economic message and celebrity business ventures — which included the ownership of several casinos over the years — could be particularly potent in Nevada, for example. 

No one denies that the relationship between Trump and Hispanic leaders has been fraught. Several members of his National Hispanic Advisory Council resigned or criticized him last month after he delivered a hard-line speech on immigration in Arizona. One member who resigned, Jacob Monty, told Politico that the plans Trump outlined in that speech were “not realistic and not compassionate.”

Other Hispanic Trump supporters are loyal to him and insist that the media is exaggerating his weaknesses.

“A lot of people blew him off early,” said George Rivera, a former state senator in Colorado. He said that Trump keeping pace with Romney’s 2012 performance “comes as no surprise” to him.

“Very early on, even months before the convention, I was talking about how Donald Trump is a lot more than the media make him out to be. He is out there, talking as a real person to the people. … He is using rhetoric that resonates.”

Sosa noted that, whatever Trump’s challenges, he could also benefit from a degree of Hispanic dissatisfaction with Obama, especially if those same voters don’t see things necessarily changing if Clinton were elected.

“Latinos are disenchanted with Hillary Clinton after eight years of an Obama presidency where he promised immigration reform the first year, and he didn’t even come close to that,” he said.