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Opinion: GOP Giant Leaves Party, Latino Outreach on Life Support

Image: Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks at a rally on June 18 at the Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas. JOHN GURZINSKI / AFP - Getty Images

It would shock nobody, except maybe Donald Trump, to say that the Republican Party's effort to reach out to Latino voters this election cycle is essentially dead. But in case this dead horse needed another kick, a trustworthy and old friend of the Republican Party decided enough was enough. Longtime GOP consultant and supporter Lionel Sosa, a noted advertising executive and publisher who is considered a grandfather of sorts to Latino Republicans - announced a few days ago via an opinion piece published in the San Antonio Express-News that he was leaving the Republican Party.

"In place of compassionate conservatism, our nominee promotes callousness, extremism and racism," wrote Sosa about Trump. "And instead of a unifier, the party now cheers the ultimate 'us against them' proponent. Divisiveness incarnate," Sosa wrote, adding, "So, if my party winds up electing Donald Trump, I'll have to bid farewell, hoping that one day soon, it comes to its senses."

Sosa was once a fixture of Republican politics. Time Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential Hispanics in America in 2005, 25 years after first working for Ronald Reagan.

A Republican for over 60 years, Sosa recalls the lure of stalwart Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. Conservatives who he remembers promoted strong families, "in God. In hard work. Patriotism. Low taxes. Small government. Freedom. Opportunity for all." Sosa wrote, "That's all gone."

Donald Trump Slammed for Appearing to Mock Disabled Reporter 2:01

Cold War warriors of that long-gone era were the ones who also guided the ethos of the party for generations. But the Cold War warriors like George H.W. Bush who brought us "a kinder, gentler nation" did not offer resistance to the overtaking of the party by the hardliners and religious conservatives like the Christian Coalition who ultimately decided to discard the veil of piety and embrace the Southern-style politics and Tea Party tactics of bullying politicians.

There is no longer any coded language. The voters in the Republican party gave way to a mindset riddled with disdain for immigrants, women, and Muslims, and the GOP is now led by a candidate who openly mocks people with disabilities, calls for a policy of profiling which he deems sensible, and attacks federal judges on the basis of their nationality.

Though past Republicans have openly vilified immigrants, Trump is the first presidential candidate to use the word "Mexican" in a derogatory way.

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The GOP still has a laundry list of Latino voices and representatives in the party, but almost none openly support Trump, let alone show any enthusiasm for his candidacy. Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada, has wavered on his support for Trump and it is doubtful he will show any enthusiasm for him. Trump visited New Mexico and found it a good place to mock Susana Martinez, the only Latina governor in the Union. He openly ridiculed Marco Rubio, the U.S. senator from Florida, by penning him "Little Marco" in the Republican debates. Rubio has said tepidly and not too convincingly that he will endorse Trump in November.

The GOP is running out of Latinos to publicly support the party of Trump, with their former Hispanic Media Director Ruth Guerra leaving her position because she was no longer comfortable working for Trump. Guerra was replaced by a former Bush spokesperson, Helen Aguirre Ferré, who was critical of Trump in the past and still is struggling to support Trump in her new position as the Hispanic communications director of the Republican National Committee, or RNC.

In a recent interview with Jose Díaz-Balart in the Telemundo program "Enfoque," Aguirre Ferré focused on her support of the party and the desire to defeat Hillary Clinton, saying that's what unites the GOP, rather than speaking about the virtues of Trump. "Yes," she said when questioned, "if Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, there will be an effort to give him momentum to defeat Hillary Clinton." The fact that this is not a ringing endorsement from the Latina face of the RNC says it all.

If calling immigrants from Mexico rapists wasn't an indicator of how Trump feels about Latinos, the departure of Sosa should give Latino Republicans not on the GOP payroll some pause.

Sosa's client, Ronald Reagan, was the President who signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants. It's also worth noting that George H.W. Bush was the first Hispanic outreach director of the GOP in the 1970s. Despite the descent of the party's Latino voting base that culminated in little support for Mitt Romney (remember "self deportation?" ), Sosa decided to remain a Republican throughout it all.

Trump: Mexico Sends its Problems To The U.S. 1:23

Perhaps Sosa saw glimmers of hope in the rising stars of the GOP, such as Sandoval, Martinez, and Rubio, but after 60 years, he witnessed the GOP squander a solid Latino voter base they could have continued to build.

Still, the fight goes on, and there is still a new guard which sees value in the future of the party. Artemio "Temo" Muniz, chairman of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans says he's still willing to fight for the soul of the Republican Party. Though he's not supporting Trump, Muniz said he is working on helping Republican candidates in state and local races.

"Someone has to stay and fight," says Muniz. "Sosa is someone I respect and look up to, he paved the way for people like me. It's hard to see someone of that stature leave, but I see this is more like a fever that is about to break".

It is bound to be the loneliest business for Latino Republicans this year, and perhaps Trump is more a death knell than a precursor of what is to come from today's viral brand of partisan politics.

"Right now, we are like prophets in the wilderness," says Muniz.

Perhaps a Trump loss this November will finally get the GOP to listen to the prophets of today where they once ignored the prophets of yesterday.

Stephen A. Nuño is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Northern Arizona University.

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