Donald Trump allies see stealth Hispanic support for 2020 re-election

April 10, 2019 GMT

More than two years into his tenure, President Trump has yet to launch the Spanish-language White House website his aides promised.

The White House does dabble in Spanish on Twitter from its LaCasaBlanca account, which chiefly consists of retweets of other official accounts and often is not translated from English.

As he gears up for re-election, Mr. Trump believes his actions will speak louder than language to gain support of Hispanics, who make up an ever-growing segment of the voting populace.

His administration rattles off the statistics: median income for Hispanics rose 3.7 percent in 2017, nearly 350,000 Hispanics were lifted out of poverty that year, and nearly nine in 10 Hispanic-owned businesses report that they plan to expand in the next year.


“Hispanic unemployment an all-time low,” Mr. Trump told Ohio workers on March 20.

He also is nominating Hispanic business leader Jovita Carranza to lead the Small Business Administration.

The president sees an opening on social and geopolitical issues, too, by decrying late-term abortion and courting Venezuelan expatriates in Florida who like Cubans and Nicaraguans before them are open to Republican candidates because of their experiences with far-left dictators.

Yet Mr. Trump has tried to cancel the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protected hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” has been chastised by federal judges over separating illegal immigrant families at the border, and has been unable to strike a broader immigration deal with Congress.

In just the past couple of weeks, he has announced plans to cut aid to Central American nations, mused aloud about closing the southern border and picked a fight with Puerto Rico over disaster aid.

Where that leaves him is murky.

A Marist poll from January said Hispanic support for Mr. Trump had reached 50 percent, yet experienced pollsters say the sample wasn’t large enough to mean much. Gallup’s most-recent poll put Mr. Trump’s approval among Hispanics at its highest point, though it was just 27 percent about the share of their vote he received in the 2016 election.

Matthew A. Barreto, co-founder of the polling and research firm Latino Decisions, said it’s hard to see how Mr. Trump can do better this time.

“I haven’t talked to a single person who actually objectively believes he can improve on his standing,” he said. “The guy is anti-immigrant, you can’t get around that. He’s not going to pivot at any point in his presidency to win over Hispanics.”


If Mr. Barreto is right, Mr. Trump could have a problem because the Hispanic share of the electorate is growing and the president is striving to preserve support in key areas such as the Upper Midwest.

Trump allies, though, say polls that show the president struggling with Hispanics don’t tell the whole story. They note that polling underestimated Mr. Trump’s chances ahead of the 2016 election.

“There are a lot of Hispanics who are afraid to say publicly they support Trump,” said Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles.

“I think he’s made considerable progress and made significant inroads with the Hispanic electorate, and it’s based on his policies,” he said. “The economy is growing, they’re seeing job creation and Hispanic unemployment is at historic lows. Like other Americans, they care about bread and butter issues, and they’re seeing this and they’re saying, ‘This is good for us.’”

The White House and Republican National Committee say Mr. Trump’s agenda is resonating with every community, including Hispanics.

Officials say Mr. Trump’s shift on immigration that supports an increase in merit-based newcomers will resonate despite press attention on his strident rhetoric and Democrats’ condemnation of his border crackdown.

“We are not going to allow the Democrats to try to take advantage of the Hispanic community,” a senior administration official said. “For too long, they’ve been taken for granted by the Democrats.”

The RNC says that “Latino values are Republican values” and that it will send talking points to surrogates and blast out emails and op-eds on issues such as border security, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and Ivanka Trump’s workforce programs for women.

The administration also said it has found ways to break the language barrier even if it doesn’t see a Spanish-language White House website as worthwhile.

Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of strategic communications, is a Spanish speaker who previewed Mr. Trump’s Feb. 18 speech to the Venezuelan exile community Florida by sitting down with Univision the same day.

“El esta con el pueblo Venezolano,” said Mrs. Schlapp, telling network viewers that Mr. Trump “is with the Venezuelan people.”

On that point, Mr. Aguilar said, Democrats will play right into Republicans’ hands if they continue to flirt with far-left policies as an increasing number of Venezuelans flee to Florida.

Hispanic voters “know what a Maduro is like, what a socialist regime is like,” he said. “Socialism is the antithesis of the American dream for them. That turn to the left, defending late-term abortion all of that really helps Republicans immensely.”

The president’s critics, though, say Mr. Trump will be hurt by other policy decisions such as his crusade against Obamacare. Hispanics represented the biggest percentage increase in coverage under the 2010 law, Latino Decisions reported.

Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said some voters won’t bother to even look at the president’s other policies because of immigration and Mr. Trump’s rhetoric.

“It’s hard to get on policy issues if the rhetoric is so anti-immigrant, anti-Latino. It’s pretty hard for people to get beyond that,” he said.

Even as he makes inroads with Venezuelans, Mr. Trump could be alienating Puerto Rican turned Floridian voters by pitting disaster aid for Midwesterners against extra Hurricane Maria relief in the island territory.

“The only explanation that’s apparent to me is he’s trying to align himself with those who also think their government back home is corrupt. How many there are, I don’t know,” said Susan MacManus, a politics professor emerita at the University of South Florida.

Analysts say the president’s fuming could create an opening for Democrats in critical areas.

“If the Democrats run on a pro-defense of Puerto Rico in central Florida, Philadelphia, in portions of Ohio, they have a huge opportunity there,” Mr. Barreto said.

Mr. Aguilar said Mr. Trump should boost his standing by offering federal support for a vote on Puerto Rican statehood.

Others say it’s too late.

Many Hispanic voters who are citizens by definition have friends or relatives in the country illegally, and the president’s strident rhetoric insults them all. If a politician speaks poorly about voters’ grandmothers, Mr. Vargas said, then it “has an effect of how they view the candidate.”

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials has invited a slate of 2020 Democratic hopefuls and Mr. Trump to speak at its annual conference in Orlando, Florida, in mid-June.

The White House has declined, saying in a letter that Mr. Trump is “unable to fit this into the president’s schedule at this time.”