In the span of 10 days, President Donald Trump made two deeply controversial decisions that many Republicans fear will spark an exodus of Latino voters from the GOP and threaten the long-term viability of the party.
Trump’s pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of racial profiling and held in contempt by a federal court, and his decision to rescind an Obama-era order protecting 800,000 young immigrants from deportation have been met with anger and despair from Latino communities across the country and a not-insignificant number of Republican lawmakers.
Samuel Rodriguez, a Trump adviser and the leader of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, would be a turning point for Latino voters.
“If the president breaks his promise to us to protect these children, they should be prepared for a mass exodus of the administration’s Hispanic support,” Rodriguez said in a statement last week.
Hector Barajas, a California-based GOP strategist whose parents and wife came to the US as undocumented immigrants, said that Trump’s DACA decision has ushered in a “grand opportunity” for a deal on border security and immigration reform. But if Trump is unsuccessful in protecting DREAMers, the consequences could be devastating.
“If nothing gets done in six months, if you start getting … actions where individuals are getting deported, I think this is going to have a very negative impact on Republicans — not just for this election cycle, but really for the next 10, 20 years,” Barajas said. “It makes it very difficult for a lot of Republicans who are running in swing states where you have a larger percentage of the vote that is a Latino population. I mean, at the end of the day elections are about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.”
Some GOP strategists argue the decisions expose Trump’s disregard both for Latino voters and the future success of the party.
“I don’t think many believe that he is ultimately concerned with the long-term viability of the Republican Party,” Brian Walsh, a GOP strategist and partner at the consulting firm Rokk Solutions, said of the president. “He’s concerned about his own political success.”
The president, who won 29% of the Latino vote in the 2016 general election, according to exit polls (some of which are disputed), has never shied away from anti-immigrant rhetoric, and some believe his election proves there’s a way forward for the party without broadening its appeal among Latinos.
But others stand by the party’s 2013 autopsy report, commissioned after Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential election loss, which found that the GOP must win over the fastest-growing demographic in the country, or face decline.
“That autopsy has been thrown out and burned over the last twelve months,” Walsh said. “But there is no long-term strategy. Republicans who simply point to Donald Trump winning the White House last November are deluding themselves if they’re not seeing the very clear demographics that are facing the party in 2020, 2024, and beyond … the maths is clear on this.”
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and president of the Potomac Strategy Group, agrees.
“The Republican Party’s ability to win Hispanic votes is the single most important political challenge the party faces, period,” Mackowiak said. “And immigration is 80 or 90% of that.”
Some, including Barajas, have raised the example of the California Republican Party, which passed a series of anti-immigrant referendums in the 1990s that pushed Latinos out of the party and to the polls, helping turn the state from purple to blue. But, as liberal pundit Jason Settler pointed out in a recent USA Today column, the California GOP’s decline took many years and the national party might not feel the full impact of a Latino exodus for some time.
Barajas said Arpaio has earned a similar reputation among Latinos to that of Pete Wilson, California’s Republican governor who championed Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from using many government services.
Reed Galen, a GOP consultant and deputy campaign manager for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said a majority of Republicans in Congress recognise that “demographics are destiny” and that most are in favour of comprehensive immigration reform.
“I don’t think any establishment Republicans were ever comfortable with his position and certainly the nativism and white nationalism,” Galen said, referring to Trump’s campaign promises on immigration, including building a wall on the US-Mexico border and implementing a “Muslim ban.”
And a large majority of Republican voters are opposed to Trump’s decisions on Arpaio and DACA. Just 24% of GOP voters say DACA recipients should be deported, while fewer than a third of Republicans approve of the pardon, according to two polls.
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