To hear political pundits tell it, Donald Trump has little chance to attract enough Hispanic voters to win the presidency in 2016 because of his plans to build a border wall and deport all illegal immigrants in America. Some pollsters and activists who have whipped up past Hispanic support for Republicans, however, see it differently.
They think Mr. Trump’s lasering in on the economy and his perceived competence in creating jobs will appeal to the one segment of Hispanics that matters most in elections: those who work and tend to vote. That’s because those voters fear illegal immigrants will compete for their jobs under the new Obama amnesty.
“This stuff you read about how Hispanics are going to run away from Trump in droves is a Northeastern myth,” said longtime presidential campaign adviser Mark Sanders.
“Most Hispanics here in East Texas are here legally, they vote, and they are hard-line opponents of illegal immigration,” said Mr. Sanders, a top adviser in Democrat Tony Sanchez’s 2002 campaign to unseat then-Gov. Rick Perry. “The only one they want is Trump — not Hillary, not Bernie. That’s the conundrum for Democrats.”
Mr. Sanders says Hispanics in East Texas “come here from rural backgrounds, from the lower end of the social and economic ladder. Most of their kids go to community colleges because it’s all their families can afford, and then go directly into the military. They have hard-core patriotism — just what Trump plays into,” Mr. Sanders added.
Whether Mr. Trump is saying he loves Hispanics or vowing to deport all 11 million or so illegal immigrants, it’s equally music to the ears of many Hispanic voters.
“I don’t care if he likes me or not as a Hispanic or Latino, as long he creates the jobs he promised,” said Carlo Maffatt, a Mexican immigrant who lives in Las Vegas and who did political liaison work in the Hispanic community for Republicans during the 2012 presidential election. “He is never going to take me out for a beer, so it doesn’t matter whether I like him or not either.
“The job of the president of the United Stats is to create jobs, not to be the friend of every American,” Mr. Maffatt said.
Mr. Maffatt said recent Hispanic immigrants have plenty of reason to favor Mr. Trump: They don’t want new immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, competing for “a job for whatever anyone will give them.”
“When we are new here and desperately trying to make a living, we will charge less than white Anglo-Saxons. We eventually improve our lot, but then when we have more new immigrants coming in, [and] we’re the first to lose our jobs because they’re willing to work for less money,” he said.
Admittedly, Mr. Maffatt’s analysis runs counter to what many TV pollsters and pundits have said in recent weeks. One national poll this fall had Mr. Trump’s unfavorability among Hispanics at a death-rattling 82 percent.
“Polls show an incredibly low Hispanic propensity to vote for Trump,” veteran Colorado-based pollster Floyd Ciruli told The Washington Times.
One reason may be a form of political correctness.
While Mr. Ciruli doesn’t expect Mr. Trump to break any Hispanic voter turnout records, he does believe the current polls are undermeasuring working-class Hispanics who may vote in 2016.
“Regular samplings by polling firms of cellphones and home phones are missing lots of recent immigrants, because they’re not on voter registration rolls,” Mr. Ciruli explained. “Whether they’re service industry workers or in other blue-collar jobs, there’s no doubt they’re less likely to be within voter samples that pollsters use.
“Trump will get a share of that vote, and that is not being reflected in official polls,” Mr. Ciruli said.
A second reason polls are off the mark is “a cultural expectation among respondents that there should be ethnic solidarity — Mexican pride and nationalism, for example,” Mr. Ciruli added. “Hence, if you are Hispanic, you should not be for Trump. That’s the politically correct thing to answer.”
Veteran GOP pollster Neil Newhouse, who is working for Jeb Bush’s super PAC, also thinks there may be something to the suspicion that there may actually be a hidden treasure trove of pro-Trump Hispanic votes. “It is going to be socially unacceptable among Hispanics to say they are for Trump,” said Mr. Newhouse. “So Hispanics who hold pro-Trump views may keep them close to their chests.”
“The problem with interpreting the polls that show Trump [is] hugely unpopular with Hispanics is that a huge number of people are in fact very much attracted to his job message and anti-establishment celebrity,” said Mr. Ciruli. “He’s extremely good at it. And he has a charisma.”
Anecdotal evidence that Mr. Trump has more appeal among Hispanics than he is credited with resides in the surprising — though far from scientific — results of interviews with Hispanic workers and political players on the front lines of the election. Many declined to allow their last names to be published for fear of backlash for the sentiments they expressed.
Take, for instance, Oscar, 58, a New York City hotel bellman who immigrated to America legally from Peru. In a private moment during a three-day conference at the hotel that employs him, Oscar happily volunteered his preference for president. Instead of an expected “Clinton” or “Sanders,” he volunteered “Trump.”
“We don’t believe anybody but Trump,” he said. “Trump won’t have to sell himself to anybody to get elected.”
That is, in the view of Oscar and Mr. Trump’s Hispanic supporters, the billionaire real estate developer won’t go along with the U.S. corporations and businesses that are widely believed to be always on the prowl for cheap labor, with legality not the overriding issue.
“Trump, he gives us hope; so it’s hope over belief,” Oscar said.
Hope for what?
“That he’ll build the wall and stop more from coming in to lower our wages and move us out of our jobs,” he explained.
Then there’s the four waiters at a Northern Virginia hotel’s restaurant — two from Bolivia and two from Guatemala. Each also volunteered during a private moment a preference for Mr. Trump. All offered the same counterintuitive reason: “He will build the wall.”
One of the women said she originally came here on a visa that expired. She stayed, becoming an illegal alien for a time until a family hired her to take care of their children and wrangled her a green card, she said. Only then did she send for her children still in Peru.
“This is not a good place if you are here illegally,” she said.
Niger Innis, a Congress of Racial Equality national official, thinks such personal testimony from Oscar and the restaurant workers is common enough to be worth taking seriously.
“Trump is actually doing surprisingly well among Hispanics,” Mr. Innis said.
“If Trump maintains the 27 percent Latino vote I think he has, and gets just 20 percent of the black vote, he’ll not only be elected president, he’ll be elected in a landslide that will completely remake the electoral map,” he added. “Places like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan and even Illinois all of sudden come back in play, while states like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina are taken off the battleground map and put firmly in the Republican camp,” said Mr. Innis.
If a Trump presidency does come to pass, will it be different enough to make a difference?
For Mr. Maffatt, who hails originally from Mexico City, it could go either way.
“I’m curious what happens if an accomplished businessman becomes president and assembles a cabinet based on merit and accomplishment instead of paying people off for political help,” Mr. Maffatt said.