Hispanics love Donald Trump and he has employed thousands of them, Donald Trump will tell you.
But who will say it for him on Univision and Telemundo, the two networks that broadcast news to millions of Latinos every single night?
For Trump to prove that he can compete with Hispanic voters — against someone like Hillary Clinton who has drawn wide support from them in 2008 and again this cycle — he will need members of the community to do the tough work of sitting across Univision and Telemundo anchors and defending rhetoric that has targeted Mexicans and immigrants, as well as his plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
And even finding those people could prove challenging.
Most of the Latino Republicans who appear on TV have ties to George W. Bush’s administration. They are the type of people who supported Jeb Bush and now have lined up behind Marco Rubio, though they’re also the type of people who support whomever the party eventually nominates. But the message on Trump from most is clear: no.
“I will never support him,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida told BuzzFeed News. “Donald Trump is not a Republican, he’s not a conservative, he’s a fraud and an aberration. He is borrowing the Republican banner to promote his narcissistic and opportunistic campaign.”
“I’m a surrogate for conservative free market ideas, so because of that, that’s my way of saying no,” said Daniel Garza who leads the LIBRE Initiative, a conservative Latino group backed by the Koch brothers. “I would like to think someone wouldn’t sell out their principles just to be his surrogate.”
Ana Navarro, a Jeb Bush loyalist, has drawn Trump’s ire on Twitter and often goes on CNN and Telemundo. She emailed “No. No. No,” when asked if she would be a surrogate for Trump. Then emailed back moments later. “Make that: No. No. No. Hell no.”
One of the few Spanish-language surrogates for Ted Cruz in Texas, Nelson Balido, said every Hispanic Republican he knows does not support Trump. He wasn’t ready to say whether he would support Trump if Cruz loses, but noted “I’ve seen how Trump’s been very unkind to the community out there,” he said, noting that his wife is from Mexico.
Asked if he could see himself eventually coming around, Luis Alvarado, a Republican strategist who appears on Univision and CNN en Español, said “never Trump.”
“I do not have an inclination of who would want to put themselves through such a horrid experience,” he said.
Univision and its star anchor Jorge Ramos view themselves as advocates for their audience, the Hispanic community, and support significant changes to U.S. immigration law, deportation practices, and how citizenship is handled for undocumented immigrants. Ramos has questioned President Obama so critically — particularly in his last interview after the immigration executive actions in 2014 — that Latino operatives speculate he may never go on with Ramos again.
Needless to say: Univision and Ramos can be expected to lay into Trump and anyone supporting him hard. And although Telemundo has positioned itself as a straight news network where the audience decides, during a recent GOP debate, anchor Maria Celeste asked questions about immigration — like what happens to DREAMers protected by President Obama’s executive actions — not normally asked of the Republican candidates.
Still, some seasoned Spanish-language surrogates in the party establishment say there’s a sliver of a chance they could defend Trump on air — if he goes to great lengths to moderate his tone.
Jose Fuentes, who was part of the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity project which made the case for making the Republican Party more inclusive, said the eventual nominee will have “phenomenal” tools to win the election. He served as the Rubio campaign manager in Puerto Rico, where the senator scored a much-needed win on Sunday. But Fuentes said he would serve as a surrogate for Trump in the general election — if he moderates his positions and message.
“Yes, I would, if Donald Trump is able to modulate his tone and work with the RNC to use the tools that we have prepared and worked on so hard,” he said.
He said Trump is already shifting his positions, citing immigration. (In the last few weeks, Trump also waffled on disavowing endorsements from white supremacist groups.)
“When you look at the number of Republicans turning out to vote in the primaries versus the Democrats, there is a real opportunity to beat Hillary Clinton,” he added. “It would be a lot easier with Marco Rubio, it would be tougher with Trump, but if he walks the line I will help him.”
Al Cardenas, a longtime Jeb Bush ally, said that while he would not serve as a surrogate for Trump in the primary, there are things the candidate can do to gain his support, like who Trump chooses to surround himself with in the general election and who he chooses as his vice presidential nominee. But he can’t remain the same candidate.
“I would consider it if he endorses things conservatives uphold; it still would be a contrast with Hillary,” he said.
Similarly, Mario Lopez, president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund said Trump would have to back down and understand how many people he has offended.
“He needs to understand it’s not about a wall or border security, but the language you use and the way you present these ideas that really matters and when you do it in an offensive way it creates a situation where a lot of committed conservatives and committed Republicans won’t take up the banner for him,” he said.
The idea of Trump shifting tone and policies is not without its problems, however: He’s shifted his position on so many things already, said Alfonso Aguilar a conservative Hispanic leader who has been critical of him. “He clearly has no ideology, his ideology is the ideology of Trump.”
What Trump could make happen, though, is the rise of a new class of Hispanic surrogates on Spanish-language television, argued Ken Oliver-Mendez, the director of MRC Latino, a conservative watchdog of those networks.
He said Trump has people who worked on his campaign in Puerto Rico, as well as business partners who could attest to who he is. Charles Muñoz, for instance, served as his state director in Nevada — where Trump loves to mention exit polls showed he won among a smaller sample of Republican Hispanics. Muñoz did not respond to a request for comment.
But it is unclear if surrogates in his mold would help Trump’s case or further antagonize Latinos.
Telemundo has not had a Trump supporter on yet and Univision has only had one — by mistake. The network learned Julio Giron supports Trump once he was already set to go on Al Punto with Ramos last summer. Giron is a California Minutemen member who is fiercely against illegal immigration. In 2013, he went on Azteca America, disputed being an activist, calling it a “socialist” term, and told the indignant host that he had put on a tie so as not to look like an “illegal.”
There is also Miguel Prado, who recently wrote an article for MRC Latino entitled “Trump Can Win Over 50% of Latino Vote,” in which he argued that Hispanics are historically more comfortable with the “colonial economies” of Latin America, where a patrón, or a boss, would take care of his servants and workers, providing shelter, food, medical, and legal help.
Trump, he said, could win over Latinos by becoming the Patrón.
“A Patrón is also a father figure,” Prado told BuzzFeed News. “The grand daddy, the great big daddy that is going to take care of Latinos.”
Prado said he tried to set up a super PAC for Mitt Romney in 2012, before abandoning the idea, centered on Spanish-language radio, which he said is more effective than TV to reach Hispanics.
He said he would try to make Latinos understand that if “you were to go to Mexico without any papers, you couldn’t get a license, you couldn’t send kids to school, you would have no medical help, and be thrown into prison.”
Asked how he would respond to the kind of questions Ramos asks — how he can support Trump who wants to tear apart families and deport millions of undocumented immigrants with ties to the country — Prado echoed the words of Trump, who has said immigrants have to be deported but some could come back.
“If I were Trump, I would set aside temporary camps, process them and they can come back,” he said, likening them to free trade zones between the U.S. and Mexico. “He could put up some Trump immigrant hotels, then they come in and get processed.”
But Prado acknowledged the difficulty in getting Latinos to give Trump a second chance. It’s the result, he said, of anti-Trump propaganda that has even infiltrated his own family, like his niece.
“She’s 18, she came when she was 10 and went to the local school system,” he said. “She’s tweeting that he’s like Hitler.”
Does he try to defend Trump to her?
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
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