MIAMI — Latino leaders believe the party’s November reckoning should have serious consequences — starting, for two dozen of them, with Chairman Reince Priebus’s resignation.
Ahead of the final debate in Las Vegas next week, prominent Republican Latinos will meet at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino. That meeting will officially be about charting a way forward for Republicans and Hispanics after what they expect will be Election Day carnage caused by Donald Trump, but there’s another major item on the agenda.
“We’re calling for the head of Reince Priebus,” said Artemio Muniz, chair of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, and one of the organizers of the conclave. “Someone has to pay for the death of Santino, like in the Godfather.”
In interviews, the Republicans said they feel “betrayed” by Priebus, who in meetings after the much ballyhooed but ultimately abandoned Growth and Opportunity Project in 2012, said he would be an ally in accomplishing immigration legislation.
“Reince told us he would call out whoever used extreme rhetoric on immigration, of course we feel betrayed,” Muniz said.
The line the Latino conservatives repeated as their argument for Priebus’s failures is that while Trump calls for “extreme vetting” of immigrants, the party was unable or unwilling to vet a candidate whose candidacy is in danger of falling apart after a damaging video was released that showed him bragging about forcibly kissing women and sexually assaulting them.
A new NBC News–WSJ poll, the first major poll released after the tape, showed Trump behind Clinton a whopping 11 points, after the race had previously tightened.
The group, whose members hail from 10 states including Texas, Colorado, California, New Mexico, and Nevada, will also discuss the creation of Project 44, an effort to embrace the inclusive values and policies that helped George W. Bush win 44% of the Latino vote.
The nascent initiative is seen as a repudiation of the traditional way the party has engaged Latinos, with members of the group arguing that outreach has been very superficial, focused on elections, and not breaking through to local communities.
“Too many Hispanics are doing piñata politics,” said Alfonso Aguilar, who briefly endorsed Trump before abandoning him after his speech on illegal immigration in Arizona and will attend the meeting. “Here’s the mariachi, here’s the candidate, ‘Yeah, viva Bush!’ We need more substantive conversations.”
The group says they want to work more closely with donors to educate them on where their resources are going when it comes to reaching Hispanics but much of it, ultimately, will come down to securing a “reasonable solution to immigration and understanding that mass deportation is not an answer,” Muniz said.
The conversation will undoubtedly have its awkward moments, with current and former members of Trump’s floundering Hispanic advisory council at the meeting.
One of the former members, Jacob Monty, who was at the center of some controversy after he said Trump had indicated openness to some form of legalization for undocumented immigrants, also left after the Phoenix speech and is one of the organizers of the Vegas confab.
When Stephen Miller, with the Trump campaign, told the New York Times that the council, created by the RNC, was stocked with some “professional amnesty lobbyists,” Monty hit back saying that he has been a Republican longer and donated more to the party.
Monty stressed that this group is not calling for amnesty — he said he believes in vetting immigrants — and that his message to the party is that doing nothing is effectively amnesty.
He too called for Priebus’s dismissal, also in colorful terms. (“If we were in Japan after a debacle like this, he would have to go and do something to himself.”)
The group is ready for criticism from the left in an effort to work on a conservative solution to fixing immigration issue, Monty said, suggesting an ID card for immigrants so the government knows who they are.
“In an era where people are blowing backpacks up, having an ID card is not crazy,” he said, alluding to homegrown terror threats.
The immigration solution is tied to the third idea the group will discuss, which is the prospect of circulating an “immigration pledge” for congressional members to sign.
With the transition to the new administration coming after the election and as a former federal appointee by George W. Bush, Monty said Latino conservatives are in danger of being shut out for too long.
“That’s the reason why we’re calling for the meeting now, what we’re going to miss is a whole generation of political appointees,” he said. “We’ve been gone for 8 years, now it’s going to be 12, so the next generation of Latino Republican political leaders, we’ve lost them.”
Still, the group will face difficulty garnering support for their plans, with a post-Trump Republican Party deciding how much of his nativist and restrictionist ideas it wants to incorporate.
Ruth Guerra, the RNC’s former Hispanic media director who left to work on down-ballot races for the Congressional Leadership Fund partly because of discomfort in helping to elect Trump, said targeting Priebus would be unwise.
“I think that it would be a mistake to criticize and to place the blame on someone who has made the unprecedented effort of having Hispanic staff working in Hispanic communities across the country and on a year-round basis,” she said. “It’s not something that’s easy, it’s not something that’s cheap, but he knows it’s important.”
But Aguilar said that while the status of Priebus is an issue that will be discussed, no decisions have been made.
He wants Hispanic Republicans to be brought into the fold and listened to as the party decides the direction it wants to go in — beyond immigration. He doesn’t want to water down its conservative message and become the “Democratic Party lite,” nor does he side with some on the right “that just think immigration is bad for the country.”
So why should the party listen to a group of Latino leaders that are starting trouble and being critical of the party? It’s a matter of surviving, Aguilar argued.
“The danger is that we don’t have a winning coalition, it’s as simple as that,” he said, calling Hispanics today’s Reagan Democrats. While immigration may not be the most important issue to Latinos, it’s a gateway issue, he added.
“We have to be constructive — if we’re able to address immigration in a constructive way we can become competitive with Hispanics and bring them into the fold,” he said, but recalled former California Governor Pete Wilson, whose anti-immigrant policies are credited with turning the state’s Latinos against Republicans for good.
“What’s happening right now doesn’t need to be permanent,” Aguilar warned.
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