Latino Republicans split on Trump's outreach

Latino Republicans split on Trump's outreach
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Latino Republicans are split on whether Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report MORE’s latest entreaties toward Latino community leaders are a good political strategy and an olive branch to a community that bore the brunt of his rhetoric, or a cynical case of pandering to a key group of voters with Election Day less than three months away. 

With Democratic rival Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP lawmaker defends Chelsea Clinton after confrontation over New Zealand attacks Klobuchar: Race, gender should not be litmus tests for 2020 Dem nominee Kirsten Gillibrand officially announces White House run MORE holding a commanding lead among Latinos, Trump on Thursday met with Latino community activists for the second time in less than a week. 

A week ago, Trump met with members of the “National Hispanic Advisory Council for Trump,” a newly established Republican National Committee effort which includes a former member of Congress, religious and business leaders, and former Republican administration appointees.

Grace Flores-Hughes is a longtime Republican Party activist who served as a political appointee in the Reagan administration and under both presidents Bush. She was a supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and said it wasn’t an easy decision to back Trump.

 “It’s the will of the people. They selected him. And we have choices. Do we support the nominee, do we sit it out, or stay in the party and continue to badmouth the nominee. If we sit it out and say I’m not going to support him and he gets elected, then you have no input into the right direction to take our community and our party.”   

The advisory committee includes several Latinos who not only did not back Trump originally but who adamantly opposed him. 

Massey Villarreal, a Houston businessman who was once chair of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, supported Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration Ocasio-Cortez's favorable, unfavorable ratings up: poll Rubio, Menendez request probe into administration's nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia MORE’s (R-Fla.) presidential bid. 

“Trump represents everything the Republican Party does not want to be. If Trump is the nominee, I don’t see how we’re going to be able to go into the [Hispanic community]," said Villareal during the primaries.

But Villarreal told The Hill he has since “reevaluated” his role in the campaign.

“Donald Trump was not my first choice, and I will not apologize for anything (insulting) he has said, but as an advocate of the Latino community I need to be in the room,” he said. “Change happens from the inside. I support Trump in the hope that he will find that this community is not what he has said in the past that it has been.

“I think it’s more about being a cheerleader for my community than a cheerleader for Trump,” he continued. “He is allowing us to come to the table and talk with him about this. I am not a lap dog for this party and I owe it to my community to be vocal on the issues.”

Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and a former Bush administration official, was also an avowed supporter of Rubio.

“If it’s between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton or Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersO'Rourke faces pressure from left on 'Medicare for all' O'Rourke says he won't use 'f-word' on campaign trail O'Rourke not planning, but not ruling out big fundraisers MORE, it’s like choosing between being shot or being hacked. We might vote, but leave that part (the presidential selection) of the ballot blank. I may choose to vote for Mickey Mouse instead,” said Aguilar before Rubio dropped out of the race.

Aguilar told The Hill that backing Trump now makes sense because “too much is riding on the election. I don’t defend his comments (disparaging Latinos and others), but I’m more concerned about Hillary Clinton’s policies and her judicial appointments should she become president. It was a tough decision (to back him) but this is not an endorsement of his comments. This is a practical decision. If we engage constructively with the party’s candidate, we get more done.”

Flores-Hughes pointed to Trump’s apparent shift on undocumented immigrants as a direct result of bringing up that issue during the Trump’s meeting with Latino GOPers.

“After the meeting he’s pausing to rethink what he said about the issue of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. That shows that we are making a difference. Who are we helping if we are not there at the table?” said Flores-Hughes.

But not all are buying it. Even Latino Republicans who say they support Trump pepper their endorsements with comments such as “a tough decision,” “not easy,” “not my first choice,” and other caveats. 

“This is just bewildering to me. Some of them said they could never support Donald Trump. Never. I was very surprised to hear about the meeting. Those Latinos put themselves in a position to seem at the very least naïve and the very worst, ill-intended,” said Luis Alvarado, a Republican political consultant and media strategist in Los Angeles who opposes Trump. 

“They have lost 100 percent of my respect and I don’t see how anyone can call them leaders when they have not proven to be such. I question their credibility, integrity, and reasoning. It’s inexplicable to me what has prompted them to be part of such a hurtful campaign,” said Alvarado.

Danny Vargas, a marketing executive in suburban Washington, D.C. who is actively involved in GOP party politics, said he has never backed Trump and never will, and called the new outreach efforts “nothing more than pandering at best, and ineffective at worst.”

Vargas believes that at this point the party doesn’t stand much of a chance with Latino voters. “It’s much too little and much too late. Trump spent over a year denigrating minority communities, he’s pitted people against each other, and he’s created a lake of lava and bile and acid. With the election less than three months away, it’s a cynical way to make amends and repair fences.” 

Patricia Guadalupe is a contributing writer for Latino Magazine.