He called Mexicans “rapists,” threw the most prominent Latino reporter out of a press conference, and wants to put his name on a wall running the length of the border with Mexico. Piñatas are literally being made out of him and selling like hotcakes in Mexico.
So who the hell are the 1 in 5 Latinos who are viva Trump?
Shawn Bambaro is a 39-year-old black car limo company owner in Miami, the son of Colombian immigrants, and runs the “Latinos Support Trump” Facebook group. And he agrees with Trump on immigration.
“There has to be a process where illegals go back,” he said of Trump’s desire to initially deport all undocumented immigrants in the United States. “And like he says very clearly: is it going to happen overnight? Are we kicking down doors and taking mothers from babies? No. The media again wants to portray this image that ICE agents are going to be at every illegal’s door.”
Lhessa Lyons, a 41-year-old Trump supporter of Dominican heritage who is a research analyst for a government contracting firm, also says she is a fan of Trump's immigration plan.
Lyons said she never created a Facebook page for a politician until “Latinos for Donald Trump.”
“I’m not partisan. I try to vote for whoever I think is best at the time. I don’t consider myself a Republican or a Democrat.”
But she said she would vote for Trump in a general election, endorsing both his plans for undocumented immigrant deportation and the “Trump Wall.” Lyons was not offended by Trump’s infamous “rapists” comment.
“I think it’s acceptable because he was telling the truth,” Lyons said. “When you have illegal immigrants crossing the border, it’s a mixed bag. You don’t know who those people are exactly. Some of them can be criminals and rapists.”
“The reality is some of them are rapists. Some of them are criminals,” she said. “That’s a reality and that’s why the border needs to be secured.”
Likewise, Bambaro said he created his Facebook page in direct response to Trump’s immigration comments, seeking to show people that not all Latinos dislike the Donald.
“It really didn’t evolve until Trump had come out and talked about the illegal immigration problem that was going on with the majority of Mexicans crossing the border that are coming in illegally,” he said. “No one initially among the people that I know had a problem with that statement.”
Bambaro was also careful to make the distinction between his Colombian heritage and that of Mexican-Americans.
Mark P. Jones, a professor of Latin American Studies at Rice University, agreed that the Hispanic community, unlike the African-American community, is less likely to be “politically monolithic.”
“One [way they break down] is national origin,” Jones said. “But then also within the Latino community, you have significant political differences depending on generations; people who are fourth- or fifth-generation Americans vs. people who are naturalized citizens. The response of those different groups will vary to some of Trump’s statements.”
The problem for Trump is that most Latino voters are Mexican-American, unlike Bambaro and Lyons. Of all Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential election, 52 percent were of Mexican origin; the second-largest Latino block is Puerto Rican, which is 14 percent.
Despite that, Trump is unpopular among more than Mexicans. More than 80 percent of Hispanics have unfavorable views of Trump. He wins a measly 22 percent of the Latino vote in a potential matchup with Hillary Clinton.
Attacking Mexicans has apparently made Trump unpopular among most non-Mexican Latinos.
“When it comes to issues that trigger ethnic identity, there tends to be a lot of cohesiveness among Hispanics,” said Sylvia Manzano, of the political research group Latino Decisions. “Are there different political views on issues? Absolutely. But when it comes to things that signify ethnic identity; language, immigration, racial profiling, you tend to see a lot of cohesiveness.”
The Republican nominee for president (Trump or not) needs to win about 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2016, a huge climb from Mitt Romney’s 23 percent. The last Republican to come that close was George W. Bush with 44 percent in 2004.
Looking down the road, Manzano views Trump’s signing of the GOP loyalty pledge, which is intended to ensure he won’t run on a third party, as problematic should he make it to the general election.
“The Republicans want to make sure that whoever they nominate is Trump-approved,” she said. “That won’t sit well with Hispanic voters.”
“You’d be hard-pressed to come back from that,” Jones said referring to Trump’s immigrant remarks. “Especially because we’re likely to see more and more coverage of his past statements and any statement he makes in the future that links to these past statements. I don’t think he’s going to be able to get away from it.”
But for people like Bambaro and Lyons, maybe it just will.
“Unless it comes out that he’s embezzled millions of dollars and defrauded banks—some crazy story—yeah, absolutely,” Bambaro said when asked whether he’d vote for Trump. “Or if he came out and used the ‘N’ word or something like that, I probably would not vote for him. But what is one racist thing that he said? The guy’s never said anything racist.”
“I’m positive that he’s going to win,” Lyons said.