In New Mexico, a phony amigo

Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, the president was in New Mexico Monday night, kicking off a swing through the west. At a rally in Rio Rancho, the president declared that he has strong support from Latinos — because of his tough stance on migrants and drugs crossing the border. “We got a lot of Hispanics, got a lot of Hispanics,” he later said. “We love our Hispanics.”

This rally seemed to have a dual purpose: to show that Trump is reaching out to Hispanic voters and that he intends to put New Mexico in play for the 2020 election. But on both counts, the rally was an abject failure. There’s no way that this president can win over a majority of Latinos or New Mexicans.

Consider how Trump spoke about one of his top Latino supporters at the rally. Singling out Steve Cortes, a member of his Hispanic Advisory Council, the president said, “He happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do.” This comment was staggeringly ignorant. Latinos come in all skin tones, and some may indeed fit the president’s image of whatever a “WASP” looks like. So, what is there to figure out? Trump expressed the narrow sentiment that all Latinos should look one way, which shows how out of touch he is with the diversity of the nation’s largest minority group.

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Then, shouting across the arena to Cortes, the president said, “Nobody loves the Hispanics more. Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?” Although Cortes’ answer was inaudible, Trump’s suggestion that he might have dual loyalties was at best bizarre and at worst offensive. It reflects the false, bigoted mindset that Latinos are less than fully American because we stay connected to our culture, language, and traditions. If this is how Trump speaks publicly about Cortes, imagine how he speaks privately about the many Latinos who are not his loyalists.

On Tuesday, Cortes said on Twitter that the president’s phrasing was “awkward,” that Trump was “joking,” and that “Critics should stop imputing malice where there is none.” Cortes’ response was entirely predictable, as he has a history of defending virtually anything Trump does. That doesn’t make Trump’s record of anti-Hispanic bias go away. Remember when he was so impressed that a Border Patrol agent spoke “perfect English?”

At his rally, Trump went on to say that Latinos understand the drug crisis better than other voters. He said that Hispanics support his border wall because “you understand it better than other people, but at the center of this crisis is the drugs that are pouring in, and you understand that when other people don’t understand it.” The president provided no context for Latinos’ supposed understanding of the drug trade; this is simply more of Trump’s natural inclination towards tired stereotypes. However, there is evidence that Hispanics do not support his border wall. A 2018 Pew survey found that 75 percent of Latinos are opposed to the idea.

Despite Trump’s assertion at the rally that Hispanics love him, that’s hardly true either. According to Pew, 79 percent of Hispanics disapprove of the job he is doing as president. A poll conducted by Latino Decisions this summer shows that only 21 percent of Hispanics support the president’s re-election. Many Latinos have reported feeling targeted or fearful in the aftermath of the El Paso massacre, carried out by a shooter inspired by Trump’s brand of anti-Hispanic rhetoric.

Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about Trump’s Monday rally is that the president may be attempting to reach beyond his base and bring in potential new supporters. If so, his move is motivated by political necessity. Trump’s approval is declining in key battleground states that supported him in 2016, so he has to expand the map as a backup strategy for 2020.

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Good luck with that.

Not only is New Mexico 49 percent Hispanic, Trump’s net approval in “The Land of Enchantment” has gone down by 34 percentage points since he took office. The state has not gone Republican in a presidential election since 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John KerryJohn Forbes KerryDemocrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 He who must not be named: How Hunter Biden became a conversation-stopper Rep. Joe Kennedy has history on his side in Senate bid MORE by less than 6,000 votes. The fact that Trump is diverting $125 million in funding for New Mexico military projects to pay for his wall is not going to help him in the state, either.

Underneath its spectacle, Trump’s New Mexico rally only confirmed a sad, ugly truth. This president is unwilling to see Latinos — even his own supporters — as full Americans. And especially during Hispanic Heritage Month, that’s nothing to celebrate.

Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.  A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.