SAN DIEGO – For Latino conservatives, Donald Trump is the Republican of last resort.
When this bizarre presidential election began, most center-right Latinos favored either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio – both of whom are moderates on immigration. The majority of Latino voters care most about the same issues that other Americans care about: jobs, education, health care, terrorism and the economy. But immigration does serve a useful purpose. It helps Latinos better understand which candidates have their back and which ones want to stick a knife in it.
In the beginning, a small subset of Latino voters leaned toward Ted Cruz. They did so despite Cruz’s fire-breathing opposition to what he glibly calls “amnesty” for the undocumented, his simplistic solutions to a complicated problem, and his lack of understanding about why people migrate and will keep migrating as long as there are jobs to be had on this side of the border.
Now, with the growing likelihood that Trump will enter the Republican National Convention in Cleveland with the most delegates and thus be the clear favorite to win the nomination, some Latino conservatives are learning to stop fuming and tolerate The Donald.
Ultimately, if Trump is the GOP’s presidential nominee, I predict he'll earn about 20 percent of the Latino vote in November. That would be a low mark historically, logging in at one point shy of where Bob Dole was in terms of Latino support in 1996. And given that Latinos represent a significant presence in 10 states – including the battleground states of Colorado, Nevada and Florida – such a poor performance by Trump would all but ensure defeat.
Still, 20 percent ain’t nothing. Which may be why former Mexican President Vicente Fox asked incredulously during a recent interview: Exactly who are these people?
It’s not that complicated. The concept of “Latinos for Trump” begins to make sense once you realize that the estimated 10 million to 13 million Latinos who are expected to cast ballots in November aren’t monolithic or one-dimensional. Latinos are like the Irish and Italians; while some define themselves by ethnicity, others see themselves simply as Americans.
Here are 10 character traits shared by many Latinos for Trump:
▪ Along with a majority of Americans, they don’t trust Hillary Clinton or find her anywhere as likable or relatable as the last President Clinton.
▪ They have been marinating for years in the same juices as other Americans, and so they are just as likely to be seduced by someone like Trump who speaks plainly and eschews political correctness.
▪ Like other Trump supporters, they are sick and tired of politics as usual and the typical politician who filters what he or she says in order to be popular and doesn’t stand for anything.
▪ Many have military backgrounds and recognize the high price of freedom. Having lost family members on the battlefield, they are looking for a strong hand in foreign affairs. And they think Trump has it.
▪ They are willing to overlook the candidate’s boorish behavior, unworkable policies, outrageous statements and high negatives in order to shake up the political system.
▪ Some actually agree with Trump’s ideas, even the far-fetched ones such as building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border or imposing a moratorium on Muslims entering the United States.
▪ When Trump scares up votes by portraying Mexican immigrants as violent criminals, they don’t take offense because they assume he’s not talking about them.
▪ They like Trump’s independent and off-the-cuff style, and find it refreshing and reassuring that he doesn’t accept campaign contributions from wealthy donors who are looking for something in return.
▪ They make their personal decisions about whom to vote for, in the privacy of the voting booth, independent of what liberal-leaning Hispanic organizations and self-appointed leaders tell them to do.
▪ While they realize that Trump has clumsily charged through the immigration debate like the proverbial bull in a china shop, and they recognize that he scapegoats immigrants, it doesn’t bother them as much you might imagine because they themselves are ambivalent about immigration in general and illegal immigration in particular.
Hey, what can I say? While Latinos represent a lot of what’s right about America, when it comes to politics, some of them get it wrong.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.