Donald Trump continues to rail about illegal immigration, much to the consternation of the Republican establishment. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus warned Trump to tone down his rhetoric to avoid, “jeopardizing the party’s efforts to woo Hispanic voters.” The left-leaning Denver Post cautions, “Lobbing lurid shots at immigrants here illegally… the tactic is a loser.” We hear about “wooing” these voters every four years as Republicans strategize how to win the White House. Are they right? Will Trump’s straight talk about illegal immigration further alienate Hispanic voters? Or might he be on the right track, also speaking about jobs and the economy?
Rather than taking the words of the political elite as gospel, let’s look at some actual data. Whites make up a shrinking proportion of the electorate, down from 88 percent in 1980 to 72 percent in 2012. Nonwhite voters were only 11 percent of Republican voters in 2012 versus 44 percent of Democrat voters. Meaning the Hispanic vote grows more influential each election cycle.
Hispanics, unlike blacks who voted 95 percent Democrat in 2012, are not monolithic Democrat voters. George W Bush won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in his reelection bid in 2004, 9 percentage points higher than four years previously when he first won the presidency. How could he have increased Hispanic support after four years in office? There was no “comprehensive immigration reform” and we were at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Look to the economy instead, specifically the Bush tax cuts. Cuts in marginal tax rates, capital gains and dividend taxes, and estate taxes, all stimulated the economy, benefiting white and nonwhite voters alike.
In fact, GWB’s 44 percent of the Hispanic vote was the largest percentage in 40 years. Republicans historically won only a third of the Hispanic vote. Even Reagan, who signed off on an amnesty program, won just over a third of Hispanics. The low point for Republicans was the last election with Mitt Romney, hardly a hardcore conservative anti-immigration candidate, who won only 27 percent of Hispanic vote. Even the cheerleader for Comprehensive Immigration Reform John McCain received only 31 percent of the Hispanic vote when he ran for president in 2008. So much for amnesty support as a means of wooing Hispanic voters.
Are Hispanics single-issue voters, focused solely on immigration? Hardly. Immigration ranked fifth in importance to registered Latino voters, behind education, jobs, healthcare, and the deficit. These are core conservative issues and will attract more voters than running on amnesty and ignoring economic issues. In fact, more than half, “of Latino registered voters say they would vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on immigration policy if that candidate agrees with them on most other issues.”
Which is why Trump’s message may not be turning off Hispanic votes, despite the warnings of the RNC or other Republican presidential wannabes who are piling on The Donald over his recent comments on illegal immigration. Instead, his overall policy positions may actually be attractive to the Hispanic community.
A quick review of Trump’s positions illustrates this. Decisively defeating ISIS benefits everyone in the U.S. Random shootings or other acts of terrorism don’t discriminate based on ethnicity or skin color. When Nidal Hassan went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Hispanic soldiers were not exempt from his bullets.
Unfettered immigration drives down wages and demand for labor. Particularly affected are lower-wage legal immigrants trying to climb the economic ladder. Of the hundreds of Disney workers recently pink slipped to make room for new immigrants, how many of those laid off were legal immigrants playing by the rules?
Open borders and sanctuary cities that harbor career criminals here illegally, allowing them to prey on Americans, is an example of “all lives matter.” Victims of illegals are of all colors and races. Putting an end to this benefits everyone, including Hispanics who can just easily be a victim of a Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanche as can a Kate Steinle.
Trump wants to bring jobs back to the U.S. through better trade deals. Again, many legal immigrants and Hispanics would benefit from these jobs. Instead the status quo is Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership which, according to the Economic Policy Institute, “Will lead to more job loss and downward pressures on the wages of most working Americans.” Equal-ethnicity job loss, but harder on minority job seekers, often lower on the economic ladder.
Repealing ObamaCare is another Trump priority. Expensive insurance, high deductibles, and narrow provider networks hurt Hispanics as much as any other group, except perhaps government officials exempted from the law. Lastly, abolishing Common Core will improve education for all public school students, regardless of race or ethnicity. Particularly in urban districts such as Paterson, New Jersey, where 62 percent of students are Hispanic and 28 percent Black.
What this means is that Trump may not be chasing away the Hispanic vote as much as the talking heads tell us. Remember the lessons of the Reagan Democrats, “whose pro-family and limited government policies appealed to their sense of values.” Democrats warning about what a disaster Trump will be for the Republican party are blowing smoke. If he was truly sinking the Republican party, the Democrats would keep quiet and stay out of the way. If a person is making a fool of himself, don’t interrupt him. Establishment Republicans are in a tizzy because Trump is challenging their status quo of managing, rather than trying to reverse, the decline of America.
The Donald is a disruptive force in politics, much like Amazon is in retail and Uber is in livery services. Given that Republicans historically have captured only a third of Hispanic votes, perhaps his message can disrupt this trend. We know from history how Republican establishment candidates fare in national elections. Just ask President Dole. Or President McCain. Or President Romney. How Trump’s candidacy will play out is anyone’s guess. But simplistically assuming that his tough talk on illegal immigration and the economy will turn off Hispanic voters may be a bad bet.
Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician and writer. Twitter @retinaldoctor.