After months of deliberating, in June 2014, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) told President Barack Obama he would not take up the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the US Senate in 2013.
Boehner had publicly and privately lobbied members of his caucus to support the bill, which was backed by many high-profile business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and enjoyed fairly broad political support.
And despite warnings at the time that the party was ruining the best chance for it had to make up ground with Latino voters, Boehner stood down after conservative members of the Republican caucus and as Republicans who feared primary challengers urged the Speaker not to take up the bill.
Now the doomsday predictions for more than 10% of the electorate are threatening to come true for the GOP because of one man: Donald Trump.
‘Some, I imagine, are good people’
Within minutes of launching his campaign, Trump was already stirring controversy.
At his campaign announcement earlier this year, Trump insisted that the Mexican government was sending “rapists” and drug runners across the US border.
“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I imagine, are good people,” Trump said at the time.
Business partners immediately began cutting ties with the real estate mogul, and Republican rivals like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) attempted to distance themselves from his rhetoric.
But Trump didn’t apologise, and to the horror or moderates in the Republican party, the reality television star has risen to the top of the polls on the back of a message steeped in controversial conservative immigration reform ideas.
Those include ending birthright citizenship, building a massive border fence, and deporting 11 million immigrants living in the US illegally.
Trump’s immigration statements and policy prescriptions have ignited a wave of disapproval among Hispanics.
A Gallup poll released earlier this week showed that the real estate magnate has the highest net unfavorable rating of any Republican candidate by a landslide. Hispanic voters view Trump more unfavorably than favourably by 51%, far higher than the net unfavorability of the next-nearest candidate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who clocked a net unfavorability of 7% among Hispanic voters in the same poll.
Trump ejection of Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference as Ramos attempted to speak over another journalist, demanding Trump explain his immigration plan, sparked a wave of support one of the most towering figures in Hispanic media.
Furthermore, Trump’s impact on the race goes far beyond his spats with journalists and controversial statements. The current Republican front-runner’s outspoken positions on immigration have actually forced many Republicans to the right.
Over half of the Republican field has come out against birthright citizenship, a constitutional right that allows all people born in the US to be automatically granted US citizenship. Many did so after Trump announced his support for ending the policy earlier this month.
Several Republican candidates have also resurrected the term “anchor baby,” a pejorative used by Trump and popularised by immigration hard-liners referring to children of non-US citizens who come to the US explicitly to give birth to children who will then automatically become citizens.
Trump’s rhetoric has been applauded by hard-line conservative immigration activists.
“What we had before that was an orchestrated effort by the Republican establishment to bury the issue in the 2016 campaign,” Dan Stein, president of the controversial group Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Business Insider. “Trump came in as a spoiler and changed the dynamic.”
Democrats have slammed the GOP field for following Trump’s lead.
“At worst — and what we’re seeing is the at worst — they follow Trump down this horrible path to these anti-immigrant frontiers,” Pablo Manriquez, Hispanic Media Chair for the Democratic National Committee told Business Insider.
‘Of course this has electoral implications’
The Republican party has struggled in recent years to win over Latino and Hispanic voters.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won 27% of Hispanic voters in 2012, far worse than President George W. Bush, who won 49% of Hispanics eight years earlier.
The GOP’s difficulty winning over Latino voters poses enormous electoral challenges for the party going into 2016. Hispanics will likely make up 11% of voters in the 2016 election; the percentages will likely be higher in key swing states like Colorado.
In the Republican National Committee’s official “autopsy” of the 2012 election loss, analysts warned that the GOP would continue to lose Hispanic voters if it did not change its aggressive rhetoric towards immigrants, which many Hispanics read as thinly-veiled racism.
“If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence. It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies,” the autopsy report said.
For his part, Trump seems to not know or care about whether his inflammatory rhetoric and policy proposals are hurting the party.
The real estate magnate has said repeatedly that he will “win the Latino vote,” insisting that his vague promises to foster job growth will help him gain support among Hispanic and Latino voters.
Democrats have been somewhat mum publicly on how they will take advantage of Trump’s rhetoric and hardline positions on immigration since the reality television star jumped into the race.
The DNC hinted that Trump’s comments may help with efforts to register Latinos, who, according to the Washington Post, the Clinton campaign is already trying to register outside of Hispanic grocery stores and churches.
“The bigger question is will it drive people to register to vote. My take is that it will,” Manriquez said.
Though Manriquez admits that the comments may have beneficial electoral implications, he also said that the political gain may not be worth the insult to the Latino community.
“Of course this has electoral implications,” Manriquez said. “But at the same time, the environment of fear that’s being created on Main Street doesn’t benefit anyone, especially Latinos.”
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