Donald Trump’s near lockup of the Republican nomination in Indiana is leaving some GOP Latinos feeling locked out of the GOP with nowhere to turn as others say they are still trying to absorb a Trump candidacy.
Soon after news rolled in that Ted Cruz was suspending his campaign, Houston businessman and GOP stalwart Massey Villarreal swore to NBC News Latino that he not only wouldn’t vote for Trump, “I will not encourage Latinos to vote for him.”
Republicans often quote Ronald Reagan saying, “Hispanics are Republicans, they just don’t know it.”
But this election year, a more apt line may be “there are Latino Republicans, but the GOP doesn’t know it,” judging from the way many Hispanics were feeling Tuesday as it became clear Trump was the likely nominee.
“I’ve often thought, what is this party anymore?” Villarreal said. “It is not the party of Reagan. It’s the party of Trump and if it is the party of Trump, I’m not a Republican anymore.”
That doesn’t mean he’s a Democrat. He swore as certainly that he wouldn’t be voting for Hillary Clinton, who he expects to eventually be the Democratic nominee.
Political scientist Bernard Fraga, an assistant professor at Indiana University, said Hispanics have been leaving the GOP since 2006 and their departures accelerated in 2010 and 2012, brought on by party rhetoric and actions on immigration.
Add in Trump and the endorsement of Ted Cruz by former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is synonymous in the community with the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 measure, “and you have the perfect storm for Latinos to depart in even greater numbers from the party” and for “Latinos who are still affiliating with the Republican Party to even stay home on Election Day,” Fraga said.
Rosario Marín, former U.S. treasurer and California businesswoman, was keeping her hopes up and hoped to continue to help John Kasich's campaign in California. She’s was still hoping for a brokered convention Tuesday night.
“I’m going to be the one to try to continue to do the work I’ve been doing the last 30 years,” Marín said. “Should the little orange man (Trump) be the nominee, he doesn’t care if I don’t (work to get out Latino voters). He will go on and do his deal.”
Kasich spoke in a conference call with Latinos leaders on Tuesday evening a couple of hours before Trump was announced the winner in Indiana. Those on the call included Marín, Villarreal; Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Roger Rocha, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens; Eric Rodriguez of the National Council of La Raza; Tony Suarez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Sarah Maestas Barnes, a New Mexico state lawmaker.
Kasich asked for their support moving forward, an attempt at keeping Trump from reaching the 1,237 delegates he needed to be the nominee, those on the call said. By Tuesday, however there were reports that he was suspending his camapaign.
The USHCC has already endorsed Kasich and the chamber’s president Javier Palomarez said it would stick with him, until he suspended his campaign.
Even without Trump, selling the Republican Party brand in the Latino community has been a challenge, said Mike Madrid, a California GOP strategist and principal at Grassroots Lab.
“It’s going to become exponentially more difficult,” he said. Voting for Hillary Clinton is “not an option” for him, he said.
He and others warned that the disenchantment shouldn't be taken by Democrats as an automatic turnout by Latinos for its nominee.
Palomarez warned that Latinos still face the challenge of consistent underperformance at the polls. In this election, they will be challenged by a Trump base that has shown up in large numbers at the polls.
Republicans are more willing to go vote than Hispanics, he said, and if Latinos don’t turn out, instead of being the gatekeeper to the White House, they are going to be a welcoming committee, he said.
Fraga warned that as Latinos leave the party, the GOP could rebuild the party around Trump, and moderates and Latino Republicans conducive to immigration reform could be pushed out of office.
"What if that’s the fate of the party, people who are very extreme and they rebuild that party on that basis on a Trump nomination," Fraga asked.
So what then do Latinos committed to their brand of conservatism do next?
“I think first you have to go through the stages of grief,” Madrid said. “You have to acknowledge what it really means and how profound it is. Some will stay engaged, some will leave and some will find a new middle direction.”
Hector Medina, a volunteer Republican precinct chair in Bexar County, said the 2nd Amendment is a top issue for him and “but I don’t know whether to trust Trump on that.”
“I’ll be put in a position where, ok, I’ll support Trump,” Medina said. “I’ll have to vote for the lesser of two evils (in the general) and I don’t want Hillary and I don’t trust Bernie (Sanders) either.”
Marco Rodriguez had hoped that Cruz would battle on to California and was disappointed Tuesday that he had dropped out of the race.
“I thought he might go on for the big convention fight, whether he won or lost, for the good of our party and more importantly for the good of our country, I have fought for for so many years,” said Rodriguez, a retired Marine. “I pray that my misgivings about Trump are wildly wrong.”
Despite those misgivings, he said he’d still vote for Trump over Clinton or Sanders.
For many Latinos active in the party, there will be a more focus on the community and less on partisan politics, Madrid said.
"We grew up in the grassroots of community, not in the Republican or Democratic Party," Villarreal said.
The focus for many Latinos in the GOP who don’t support Trump will be on working down ballot in local communities to elect mayors, county supervisors, school board members who believe in the core issues that GOP Latinos support, but who are not necessarily running on a partisan ticket.
They may be candidates who support charter schools or whose policies benefit blue collar workers in industries where Latinos work.
Villarreal said GOP Latinos also will be working on behalf of members of the House and Senate who are "mindful" of the Latino community.
“You don’t just pick up your marbles and go away," Madrid said. "We’ll go fight where we can win."