Presidential races

GOP Hispanic leaders open to reconciling with Trump

Prominent Hispanic conservatives say they could back Donald Trump if the presumptive GOP nominee changes his tone and walks back some of his policy positions.

Republican Latino leaders have chaffed at Trump’s call for a wall on the southern border and statements from his campaign launch about rapists and criminals coming across the border from Mexico.

{mosads}The tone and policy positions have contributed to Trump’s unpopularity with Hispanics. Trump trailed Clinton by 39 points among Hispanic voters in a Fox News Latino poll released on Friday.

But prominent voices in the conservative Hispanic world say they’re ready to move toward Trump if he can move toward them.

Alfonso Aguilar, a former White House official under President George W. Bush who now leads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said he’d be open to a conversation.

Aguilar has criticized Trump in the past, but he praised the presumptive nominee’s decision to send a video to this weekend’s National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC). Trump’s video aired Friday night, along with one from Clinton. 

“If in the process of unification, he were to seek my support and show he’s willing to change his tone and be open to some form of legalization, I would be willing to reconsider my position,” he said. 

“He’s done with the Latino community, he’s done with the Latino conservatives,” Aguilar said on Fox News in October. “If Donald Trump is the GOP candidate, we won’t work to support him and we are sure he will lose the general election because there’s no way a GOP candidate can win the White House if they don’t get more support from Latino voters.”  

There are signs that Trump is seeking to change his image with Hispanics.

Besides the video address to the Christian conference, he met at Trump Tower earlier this month with Rev. Mario Bramnick, a member of the group’s board.

Bramnick told Time Magazine that Trump “showed a tremendous understanding and concern for the undocumented immigrants.”  

While Trump would not commit to any specific policy changes, Bramnick told Time the general takeaway was one of inclusion.

“We all came out really sensing his genuineness,” he said.

“We didn’t get into specifics other than that he wants to work with us, work with the Hispanic community, Hispanic leadership on substantive policy regarding immigration.”

Trump has also spoken with former Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.), a former Republican National Committee chairman.

Martinez would not elaborate on the conversation but told The Hill over email that he has not yet decided whether he’ll endorse Trump and “will be continuing to see how things develop. 

That’s a stark contrast from Martinez’s comments to The Wall Street Journal in February about whether he’d vote for Trump.

“If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there,” he said.

Trump doesn’t need to win a majority of Hispanics to win the White House, but he certainly can’t afford the risk of doing worse than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Giving Trump supporters some optimism, the Fox poll showed Clinton has high negatives with Hispanics. Forty-one percent of Hispanics polled held a negative view of Clinton. A much higher number — 74 percent — hold an unfavorable view of Trump, but it suggests some vulnerability for Clinton.

Still, GOP Hispanics say Trump has a long way to go.

“Regardless of how many speeches he gives, the question is, is he going to change his tone when he talks about Mexican-American immigrants, and on immigration, is he going to be more constructive?” said Aguilar, who has yet to be contacted by Trump.

Any Trump move toward Hispanics could also represent a difficult balancing act. His promises of mass deportations and a huge wall built by Mexico are crucial points of appeal to his most vocal supporters.

A January poll from The Wall Street Journal found that Trump held a dramatic lead among GOP primary voters who believe immigrants strongly weaken the country.

But Trump has repeatedly said “everything is negotiable,” leaving an opening for movement.

The head of the NHCLC, the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, and Daniel Garza, the head of the conservative LIBRE Initiative, have both criticized Trump but say they are open to a reconciliation.  

“Is it too late to redeem the narrative with the Latino and Hispanic community, even the Latino and Hispanic pro-faith community? I don’t know,” Rodriguez said. 

“There is this perception, but because we are Christians, we want to provide space for reconciliation and redemption. No one is beyond redemption.”

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