Donald Trump is ending his presidential campaign the same way he started it: by disparaging Latinos. And his attitude towards the group will leave a lasting mark, and may imperil Republican White House prospects for a generation, Hispanic voting organizations say.
The parting jab occurred on Saturday evening, when Republican Nevada chairman Michael McDonald darkly hinted at a Trump rally that there was wrongdoing by election officials in the state to advantage a “certain group.” It was clear that he was referring to Latino voters.
“They kept a poll open ‘til 10 o'clock at night so a certain group could vote,” said McDonald, referring to Clark County, which is 30 percent Hispanic. “You feel free right now? You think this is a free or easy election?”
Trump echoed this sentiment, alleging, without evidence, some form of misconduct at “certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County.”
“Folks, it’s a rigged system. It’s a rigged system. And we’re going to beat it,” Trump said.
Organizations that have spent years encouraging this “certain group” to vote immediately cried foul, accusing Trump of suggesting that the citizenship of Hispanic American matter less than others.
“Donald Trump’s campaign has been one defined by its dog-whistle statements of communities of color, and this is no exception,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, president and chief executive of Voto Latino. “Donald Trump has continually tried to make Latinos feel less than American with his insistent attacks against our community… Party officials like Chairman McDonald are again showing just how out-of-touch the GOP is about welcoming new voters into its party by discouraging people from casting their ballot.”
The Trump campaign was confronted about the nominee’s comments Sunday morning by CNN’s Jake Tapper, and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway stumbled to justify why he had hinted at any voter irregularities—and acknowledged there had not been any evidence of misconduct.
“It’s concerning when you hear reports about special favors and perhaps special rules for Democratic voters,” Conway said. “We have not been able to independently verify that. But I’m telling you that we just want the rules and the laws followed, and that will be fine. “
Historically, election officials have allowed voters who were in line when polls close to finish the process. A spokesman for the county told CNN that no voting stations extended their opening times, merely that those in line were allowed to finish voting.
“Election officials have a duty to allow people who are in line waiting to vote to do so, even if the polls are closing,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. “What is most disturbing is the suggestion that some voters be denied the opportunity to vote because of limited capacity at the polls.”
The Trump campaign’s insinuations that the system is rigged merely because Hispanic Americans were allowed to cast their ballots brought flashbacks of when the GOP candidate began his campaign at Trump Tower nearly a year and a half ago.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said in June 2015. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
The last 17 months have brought insult after insult to the Hispanic community, from Trump’s suggestion that they are associated with crime, to his proposal for a deportation force, to his suggestion that a federal judge could not be fair to him because of the judge’s Hispanic heritage. Trump’s comments in Reno were merely the parting blow of a candidate whom most in the community despise.
“Trump’s insinuation that he won’t accept what is certain to be his sound defeat on election day is the lowest form of political buffoonery,” said Javier Palomarez, President and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “With comments like those he is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous messengers of hate and discord the U.S. election process has ever seen.”
The Hispanic voting population in the United States is close to 60 million, and will rise to double that by 2060, according to Census Bureau projections. While the Republican Party had stressed Hispanic outreach in its autopsy of what went wrong in the 2012 presidential race, Trump has done the exact opposite—alienating them at practically every turn.
“It’s clear that the GOP is holding on to anything they can in order to stop Latinos from voting and say the election is rigged, because they know that Latinos are voting in large numbers and that we are the wall that can stop Trump and down-ballot Republicans who support him from getting elected,” said Pili Tobar, a spokesman for the Latino Victory Project.
At least 200,000 more Hispanic voters cast early ballots in the critical state of Florida as of Friday than they did during the whole early voting period in 2012, according to an analysis cited by The New York Times on Sunday. And many of these voters were brand new to the process: 24 percent had never cast a ballot before.
With chants of ‘Build That Wall’ a lasting memory of this campaign, Trump’s candidacy could impact Republicans for a generation for Republicans to come.
“The anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment runs so deep within the Republican Party that I don’t believe the GOP will be able to recover any time soon,” said Tobar. “The Republican Party is going to need to do some serious soul-searching.”