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Opinion: Are Latino Republicans an Endangered Species?

Donald Trump is the culmination of a party that has been pushing away Latinos, including Republican Latinos, argues political scientist Stephen Nuño.
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The Marco Rubio bender ended with a whimper on March 15th, where the Senator from Florida could not even match Donald Trump mano a mano in his own state, a place where Rubio had risen to power on the promise that his youthful looks and dashing rhetoric of past American glory could return the presidency to the GOP through his charisma. But despite winning 62 percent of the votes in south Florida, a stronghold of Cuban-American politics and a growing and increasingly diverse Latino electorate, the rest of the state turned their back on him. Most consequential perhaps, the state turned their backs on Latino conservatives. Why?

For many the notion of a Latino conservative is a contradiction in terms. For decades, beginning with the Proposition 187 movement in California in 1994, where the state was asked to deputize government workers from teachers to doctors to enforce immigration laws, the Republican party began centering much of its political strategy out West around vilifying immigrants. The GOP put into motion a movement that would eventually consume Marco Rubio’s bid for the presidency before he even graduated from Miami law school almost 3,000 miles away.

RELATED: Despite GOP Latino Leaders' Backing, Marco Rubio Loses Florida, Ends Campaign

The war on terrorism after 9-11 has culminated into a Republican party where state after state GOP voters now continue to support halting Muslim visitors from coming into the country. Donald Trump has made this ban, along with his promise to build a "big beautiful wall" along the southern border, the centerpiece of his campaign.

Much has already been written about the appeal this has for Trump voters, and it is commonly attributed to some fleeting phenomenon of angry white voters who have fallen on bad times, and Donald Trump was simply there to tap into that despair.

The strongest predictor of anti-immigrant measures has less to do with economic factors and more to do with Republican values, researchers have found.

But research by Pratheepan Gulasekaram and Karthick Ramakrishnan dispel the myth that the GOP war on immigrants is cyclical and only rises when bad economic times fall on the country. Though it is commonly assumed that restrictive measures against immigrants are a response to the growth of immigrant populations, immigrant-caused economic stress, the prevalence of Spanish speakers in the state or overcrowded housing, but their analysis of the data shows that the strongest predictor of anti-immigrant measures has less to do with these factors and more to do with Republican values. In other words, Donald Trump isn't picking up on any movement, he is the culmination of it.

RELATED: Analysis: Will Trump Wall Off Latinos from GOP?

Despite the dominating grasp the Democrats have had on Latinos over the last 20 years as a result, it may surprise people to know that the GOP was once a party of promise for aspiring Latino businesspersons, parents who sought choice in education for their children, and Latino churchgoers where Catholicism still has a strong influence on Hispanic culture. Right around when Rubio was in college, his current neighbor, Jeb Bush, had a father who was president of the United States and led the country to a successful war against Saddam Hussein after he had invaded Kuwait.

George Herbert Walker Bush was not only a veteran of World War II, but also the former director of the CIA. He was also the first chairman of the Republican Party’s earliest attempts to reach out to Hispanic voters decades before. Though Rubio has tilted right - he turned his back on the bipartisan immigration reform bill he helped build - no doubt Rubio was influenced by Bush and Ronald Reagan as he grew up in the Republican bastion of Cuban-American politics. Despite his rightward shifts on several issues, one can see Reagan’s imprints is the centerpiece of Rubio’s inspiration in speech after speech.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Republican National Convention, and his name is Donald Trump. Many in the GOP, particularly Latino conservatives, warned the party about Donald Trump for decades, though not specifically the man, certainly the movement.

Donald Trump isn't picking up on any movement, he is the culmination of it.

Election after election the GOP had been told that the strategy of vilifying immigrants could not last long at the national level. Even a majority of Republicans support humane immigration reform, but the temptation for the GOP to use immigration as a wedge issue for electoral gain has been too much to bear at the local level.

Ruben Barrales, President and CEO of a group called GROW Elect, a conservative organization that seeks to recruit and assist Latino Republicans to run for office in California, was melancholic in his assessment of the GOP after Rubio’s loss. Nevertheless he reflected on the possibilities that once existed with the Republicans.

In an email exchange Barrales wrote, “George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did it very successfully in their elections. GOP candidates can do well with Latino voters. They need to acknowledge that tone and attention to the community matters.”

Artemio Muniz, chairman of the Federation of Hispanic Republicans in Texas who was a member of the Latino Conservative Leaders group calling on Republicans to support Marco Rubio, has called this election a “battle for the soul of the GOP”. With that battle now lost, however, Muniz says Trump is a “non-starter” for him. “I’ve lost hope with politicians like Trump and campaigns like his.”

But when asked if he would vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders he said flat out, “no”. Instead, both Barrales and Muniz said they would focus on the local, well aware that the rise of Trump makes their job all the more difficult. Muniz says, “With Donald Trump, the concept of Hispanic outreach is dead. Our house is burning down, we need to remind the party why.”

Similarly, Barrales says, “The time for outreach has passed. In our increasingly diverse state and nation Republicans need to practice inclusion, or else they will face an inevitable extinction.”

The politics of exclusion has worked well in several states, but has come at a price for the GOP at the national level. The lifeblood of Trump's candidacy, however, is fed by the anxiety and vitriol allowed to go on so long at the local level. In this, Latino Republicans hope to make their greatest impact for tomorrow.

Perhaps the GOP still has a ways to go before it reaches extinction, but with the fall of Marco Rubio, the Latino Republican is without a doubt an endangered species.

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