- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2016

Donald Trump insists Hispanics love him, but there’s a striking deficit of prominent Latinos willing to defend him in public.

It’s unclear whether Mr. Trump is even on the lookout for surrogates, but the lack of Hispanic surrogates makes it all the more difficult for him to reach the fast-growing demographic that analysts say could swing this year’s election.

“I cannot think of a single prominent Hispanic right now out there banging the drums and or waving their pom-poms on behalf of Trump,” said Ana Navarro, a GOP strategist of Nicaraguan descent. “For a Hispanic, defending Trump on national media represents a big risk to reputation, not to mention having to look at yourself in the mirror every day.”

The latest casualty came this week when the Republican National Committee’s director of Hispanic outreach, Ruth Guerra, left to take a job with a conservative activist group.

The RNC announced it has hired Helen Aguirre Ferre, an adviser to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, to take her place, even as several newspapers were reporting that Ms. Guerra left because she couldn’t stomach having to defend Mr. Trump.

But prominent Hispanics, including those that do not support Mr. Trump, discounted the stories, saying Ms. Guerra’s move to the American Action Network amounted to a promotion, and was an opportunity too great to pass up. An AAN spokesperson said the group had been wooing Ms. Guerra since March.

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The shake-up created an opening for Democrats, who circulated video of Ms. Ferre, the new RNC Hispanic spokeswoman, questioning Mr. Trump’s past comments on women and Mexicans.

“Even this new Republican spokesperson seems to agree that the GOP’s standard-bearer lacks the judgment and temperament to serve in the White House,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Walter Garcia.

The Trump campaign did not respond to inquiries about its Hispanic outreach efforts, but the candidate himself has insisted he will do well with Hispanic voters in November. Still, he’s done little to soften the rhetoric that angered Hispanic activists in the first place last summer.

Mr. Trump recently picked a fight with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, one of the most prominent elected Republican Hispanic women in the country, and caught flak after he called U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over class-action lawsuits against Trump University, a “Trump hater” and suggested the Indiana-born judge doesn’t like him because of Mexican ancestry.

Ryan Call, a former Colorado GOP chairman, downplayed the idea that Mr. Trump needs surrogates to carry his flag into Hispanic communities.

“He may at times be crass and irreverent, but Trump has gone out of his way to emphasize his support for legal immigration and I also think he understands that American Hispanics are tired of the way Democrats pander to them as single-issue voters and take their support for granted,” he said.

Polls, though, show Mr. Trump has his work cut out for him.

An America’s Voice/Latino Decisions poll released in April found that 87 percent of Hispanic voters had an unfavorable view of the billionaire developer and presumptive GOP nominee. Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was seen favorably by 61 percent.

The backlash at Mr. Trump has been on display outside his rallies, where protesters, including Hispanics, have burned Trump banners and waved the Mexican flag.

Hispanic Republicans are torn over Mr. Trump’s candidacy, Ms. Navarro said.

“The idea of hurting the party and down-ballot candidates, is painful,” she said. “The idea of throwing away our vote is painful. The idea of helping Hillary Clinton is painful. And the idea of supporting and defending Trump — that’s right there with waterboarding.”

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, both of Florida, as well as Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado have said they can’t support Mr. Trump. Other leading GOP Hispanics, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have embraced him in a lukewarm fashion.

Six months out from the election, Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and former member of the George W. Bush administration, said Mr. Trump faces a big challenge in winning over Hispanic voters, including himself.

“His behavior in the past days hasn’t helped,” Mr. Aguilar said, adding that there is a “glimmer” of hope that Mr. Trump can win his support. “Ray [of hope] is just way too positive,” he said.

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