After Mitt Romney lost the presidential election in 2012, Republicans in the United States determined to do better with Hispanic voters next time, less than one in three of whom voted for the Republican candidate that year.
Then along came Donald Trump.
The foulmouthed property tycoon, who kicked off his presidential candidacy last year by alleging that Mexico is deliberately sendings its “murderers” and “rapists” across the border, is supported by around a third of Republicans nationwide and has attracted by far the most media attention.
His divisive rhetoric (which isn’t limited to Hispanics) is the very opposite of what the Republican Party set out to do.
Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes in The New York Times that 45 percent of Latinos now think the Republican Party is “hostile” to them.
That is up from 18 percent four years ago.
The biggest shift has been among young Latinos. More than three times as many under the age of 35 think the Republican Party is hostile toward them compared with the 2012 results.
Vavreck argues that most Hispanics didn’t think Republicans thought very much about them one way or another in 2012.
But after months of hearing the party frontrunner talk about Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, followed by discussion of the deportation of eleven million undocumented immigrants and any American-born children with undocumented parents, most Latino voters changed their minds. The party brand suffered at the hands of its most popular candidate and now all the Republican candidates hoping to be the next nominee are disadvantaged.
Trump’s opponents have condemned his sweeping statements about immigrants and foreigners. But they haven’t quite distanced themselves from his hardline positions on immigration.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Hispanics themselves, are trying to have it both ways: raise the party’s popularity with a growing demographic without losing support from anti-immigrant whites.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, is more compromising, calling illegal immigration an “act of love” and supporting some form of legalization for those in the country without documents. But he is stuck in single digits in the polls.
None of them may be able to undo the damage Trump has done in time for the November election.