As Donald Trump faces corporate boycotts over his recent comments deriding Mexican immigrants, his remarks are also dividing Republicans, and their conservative constituencies, by forcing them to reconcile their “tough-on-immigration,” “secure-the-border” rhetoric with their hopes of garnering more Latino votes than the Democrats in 2016.
In his June announcement launching his presidential campaign, Trump said: “When Mexico sends its people [to the United States], they’re not sending their best…. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Republicans, and especially other candidates seeking the GOP presidential nomination, have been forced to state publicly whether they stand with Trump on immigration policy.
Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, called Trump’s comments “not helpful,” while former Florida governor Jeb Bush distanced himself from Trump, saying he disagreed with Trump’s comments. Texas senator Ted Cruz recently said on Fox News that Trump “speaks the truth.”
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who recently announced his own presidential bid, said Trump’s comments were “wholly inappropriate.”
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who is not running for president, defended Trump’s remarks, saying critics had taken his statements out of context.
Conservative business interests are singing a different tune. In a June 30 statement, touting the entrepreneurial credentials of the United States’ immigrant community, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants represent “an extreme and exclusionary position that has no basis in fact and is completely inappropriate in our national political discourse.”
Joining Univision, NBC, and Macy’s boycotts of Trump businesses, the Hispanic Chamber said it will not consider Trump hotels as possible locations for its 2016 National Convention in Miami, Florida, or its 2016 Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. Likely fearing consumer boycotts, the business community is running from Trump, seeking to push him further away from the Republican mainstream, while Trump, ever the consummate businessman, is breaking ties with any company that seeks to blacklist him.
Criticizing Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for blaming immigrants for a declining middle class in the United States, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said, “Politicians promote misleading facts about immigration to rile up their political base.” The Chamber might as well have been talking about Trump.
But by playing to the GOP’s right-wing base, Trump’s comments are forcing Republicans to reconsider their hardline stances on securing the border and not offering “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants, causing splits within the GOP over immigration. Republicans want (and desperately need) to court Latino voters nationally, so while moderate Republicans are trying not to alienate potential GOP voters, Trump and the Tea Party faithful prefer sticking with their nativist, scorched-earth rhetoric.
Which explains why Democrats are rejoicing that Trump is becoming the face of the Republican Party. “His outlandish rhetoric and skill at occupying the national spotlight are also proving to be dangerously toxic for the GOP brand, which remains in the rehabilitation stage after losing the 2012 presidential race,” reports The Washington Post.
In 2014, 62 percent of Latinos reported voting Democratic in their congressional district race, according to the Pew Research Center. And in the 2012 presidential election, President Obama had a 44-point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney when it came to Latino voters.
If Republicans hope to win the White House in 2016, winning over more Latino voters will certainly play a large role. The problem for the GOP is not just limited to one well-known Republican candidate’s dramatic, outspoken racism. More so, it’s the fact that Trump’s stance has shined a spotlight on the party’s deeply entrenched xenophobia, and now every candidate has to acknowledge it.
More and more, it doesn’t seem possible for Republicans to have their border-wall-and-deportations cake, and eat more Latino votes, too.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr