Selling Donald Trump’s candidacy to Latinos—even conservative, Republican Latinos—is a tricky political dance.
A few of Trump’s top surrogates in Cleveland paid a visit on Wednesday to an event hosted by the Latino Coalition—a conservative, nonpartisan group. Their pitch for the real estate mogul wasn’t exactly inspiring.
“I want you all to understand,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said, “that I made a choice to support Donald Trump not only because he’s been my friend for 14 years, but because I am completely confident he is going to be the Republican nominee for president, and last night he became the Republican nominee for president.” Christie then asked the event’s attendees to make a similar calculation when it comes to picking between Hillary Clinton and Trump. The message was clear: Suck it up, and vote for Trump.
The next speaker, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), delivered a brief speech in which he slammed Clinton for being too liberal, praised the work of the Republican Congress, and bashed bureaucratic red tape. He never even mentioned Trump. Originally a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), Duffy seemed more inclined to raise his own profile among the group than to tout the virtues of his party’s standard-bearer.
Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, stopped by to pitch party loyalty—not by invoking the GOP presidential nominee, but by quoting Rubio. “We open our arms,” she said, “and I can’t say this [as] eloquent[ly] as Marco Rubio may have said it, but you know what: We welcome legal immigration with wide gates and wide open arms. But again there is a rule of law in the country. There is an opportunity for everyone to come in this country legally; and we welcome all to do that.” Like Duffy, she didn’t mention Trump.
These party emissaries seemed to know their audience
—most of the attendees were less than enthusiastic about Trump. Tony Quinones, a venture capitalist and registered Republican from California, is hopeful that Trump will evolve into a typical Republican nominee. “But if he starts diverting off of that”—for example, his pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border—”that I know makes people nervous. It makes me nervous. It makes people in my family nervous. It makes people I do business with nervous.”
“I’ve talked to at least 20 family members about politics and about how we as a family want to approach it,” Quinones said when asked how he would vote in November. “So I’m here to find out what the real policies are going to be.”
Mario Lopez, the president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a conservative group, wasn’t optimistic that conservative Latinos would rally behind Trump this year. “A lot of the data from 2012 shows that the Latinos who did not vote, who stayed home, were more likely to self-identify as politically conservative,” he said. He sees little evidence that those voters will turn out for Trump in November. “I think it’s highly unlikely,” he said, beginning to laugh. “The signs don’t point in that direction, let me put it that way.”