SAN DIEGO — Looking ahead to a general election and even a prospective presidency, Trump has one last chance to patch things up with Hispanic Americans, and do so with enough finesse that he doesn’t alienate his white supporters who detest “Hispandering.”
As a businessman, Trump understands that he’s selling to a much broader market now than he had been during the GOP primaries. Fifty thousand Hispanics turn voting age each month and Hispanics are registering in large numbers to vote against Trump. Hispanics represent a sizable presence in three decisive states (Florida, Colorado, Nevada) and also a large part of two Democratic strongholds that Trump says he intends to compete for (California and New York).
He needs to make peace with Hispanics, and that takes more than tweeting a photo posing with a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo. A little respect goes a long way.
And so far, Trump has shown America’s largest minority very little respect. Instead, he has gone out of his way to alienate, mock, and demonize them.
If the real estate mogul wants to thaw the relationship, he can start by pivoting on immigration. In fact, he may have already left a trail of breadcrumbs to lead him back to a saner policy.
For instance, Trump has often said that he supports legal immigration, which sets him apart from the hardcore nativist elements of the Republican Party who are flat-out anti-foreigner and would impose a moratorium on immigration across the board.
He has also said all along that, while he would build a wall on the border, he would also put in “a big beautiful door” so that the people who are deported could come back legally.
Besides, Trump has noted, from his years of hiring and employing people, that Mexican immigrants have an awesome work ethic. He’s likely to want to keep them around as opposed to shipping them out.
Then there is the fact that we’re dealing with a businessman who, for all his tough talk on immigration, will likely not do anything that hurts business, which includes deporting millions of workers.
Lastly, there could be something to the story from a few months ago that The New York Times Editorial Board is sitting on a tape recording of off-the-record remarks by Trump where he all but admits that his anti-immigration tirade is nothing but a shrewd marketing tactic and that he doesn’t really intend to crack down on immigrants.
If Trump is sincerely angry at what he sees as a broken immigration system, then he should direct that anger where it belongs—at the U.S. Government, President Obama, Congress, even businesses and homeowners who hire illegal immigrants (something he has himself been accused of doing).
In announcing his presidential bid last summer, Trump called Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists” and insisted they were scraped off the bottom of the barrel. He didn’t even distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants, and instead lumped them all together as undesirables with “lots of problems.”
No wonder Hispanics got so hot under the collar. How would you react if someone insulted your grandparents?
If Trump wants cooler heads to prevail before the general election, he needs to do what American politicians have always found it tough to do when discussing immigration and separate the policy from the people. Just because you’re frustrated with one doesn’t mean you have license to attack the other.
Hispanic voters may be a lost cause for Trump, but he’s proven that his core supports are open to his stances on issues from abortion to tax cuts to trade where he sounds like anything but a typical conservative. His backers like him, trust him, and believe in him. They think he’s looking out for them, and that gives him a lot of space to pivot on immigration—especially during an election when the alternative is Hilary Clinton.
It’s not too late for Trump to do the right thing—which is also the smart thing—with Hispanic Americans.