Donald Trump’s Latino Campaign Begins

In early November, Donald Trump sat for an interview with the Televisa news anchor Enrique Acevedo, who came from Mexico to Mar-a-Lago for a conversation that aired on Univision. Grupo Televisa merged with Univision in early 2src22, and, to many observers, the broadcast represented an about-face for the network. It almost certainly wouldn’t have happened

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In early November, Donald Trump sat for an interview with the Televisa news anchor Enrique Acevedo, who came from Mexico to Mar-a-Lago for a conversation that aired on Univision. Grupo Televisa merged with Univision in early 2src22, and, to many observers, the broadcast represented an about-face for the network. It almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if the interviewer had been Jorge Ramos, the main Univision anchor, whom Trump kicked out of a press conference in 2src15. At the time, Ramos wanted to press Trump on his plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and deport undocumented immigrants. Trump told Ramos to “go back to Univision!,” which he and other conservatives saw as a left-leaning news outlet. But Trump’s feelings about Univision appear to have changed since the merger with Televisa. Like his Latino supporters, Trump told Acevedo, the leaders of Univision are “unbelievable entrepreneurial people. And they like me.” Acevedo nodded and smiled.

Liberal Latinos argued that Trump’s sitdown with Acevedo was a betrayal of Univision’s responsibility to deliver the truth to the Latino community. They pointed to the fact that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—who is an acquaintance of Bernardo Gómez Martínez, a top executive of TelevisaUnivision—reportedly helped arrange the interview. They also complained that Univision rescheduled Biden campaign ads that were to air during the interview, and cancelled a post-interview spot with Maca Casado, the Biden campaign’s director of Hispanic media. (A spokesperson for TelevisaUnivision noted that Maca Casado did an on-air interview with Univision the following week, during a segment about Trump’s interview and the statements he has made about immigration.) Mostly, though, liberal Latinos were upset because Acevedo lobbed softballs for an hour and didn’t push back on Trump’s responses. He didn’t challenge Trump when he once again made false claims about winning the 2src2src election and Mexico paying for construction of his border wall. He also didn’t question Trump about controversial statements he has made in other venues, including that immigrants are poisoning the “blood of our country.” In a column published on his own Web site, Ramos wrote that the interview “put in doubt the independence of our news department.” He added, “Democracy is something that must be defended every day. And for journalists, the way to do that is to ask questions.”

Conservative Latinos responded, in a letter to Daniel Coronell, the president of Univision News, by saying that the interview “allowed your audience to hear the former president’s point of view on numerous challenges facing the nation.” They added that Acevedo “did a good job in asking tough questions and follow ups.” Acevedo did, in fact, ask a few questions that could have made Trump uncomfortable, about his family-separation policy, his many indictments, the large number of guns flowing into Latin America from the United States, whether he supports a military invasion of Mexico, and whether he would grant Venezuelans and Nicaraguans the same immigration benefits Cubans have had. But Trump batted the questions away with misleading talking points—Obama separated families as well, the prosecutions against him are purely political—and Acevedo didn’t press him further. For their part, network executives have defended the interview by saying that their election coverage will give equal air time to Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, so viewers can make as informed a decision as possible. (A dispute ensued about whether Univision had also tried to speak to Biden. Network executives said that they’ve been trying to secure an interview with Biden for months, but a Biden campaign official told the Washington Post that Univision hadn’t made a comparable offer.)

The liberal and conservative Latinos involved in the debate are both right and wrong, but, above all else, their argument demonstrates the intensity of the fight for Latino voters in the upcoming election. And for the moment, at least, liberal Latinos are on the defensive. Trump improved his performance among Latinos from 2src16 to 2src2src, and, though the anticipated “red wave” in 2src22 didn’t happen, Latinos didn’t “come home” to Democrats, either. This fall, several polls have shown rising Latino support for Trump, despite the Democratic Party’s significant investment in early Latino outreach, while also showing that Trump could do better in 2src24 than he did in 2src2src, including in swing states like Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Certainly, there’s a lot of time until next November, and there are many unknowns, including how Trump’s numerous trials and the wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe will unfold. But the state of play for Democrats is concerning. It certainly isn’t good news that a majority of Latinos say they disapprove of Biden’s performance as President, and Univision’s seeming shift to the right hasn’t helped alleviate liberals’ anxieties.

The actor and comedian John Leguizamo has been one of Univision’s most vocal new critics. On Instagram, he called for a boycott of the network. He also wrote an op-ed about the controversy that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and then, as guest host of “The Daily Show,” followed up with a segment about it. Leguizamo argued that Univision needs to uphold the standards of “honest journalism,” as it has in the past. Fair enough: Acevedo didn’t have to be as accepting of Trump’s answers as he was. But, in the L.A. Times, Leguizamo also called Trump the most “anti-Latino President in American history.” And, on “The Daily Show,” he said that, as the “news organization for the Latino community, Univision has a responsibility to fully report what a second Trump Presidency could mean for them. And the truth is that that shit is mad scary.”

Arguably, showing Latinos what a second Trump Presidency could mean for them is exactly what Univision did when it aired the interview. Viewers heard Trump describe, in dubbed Spanish, his views on immigration, border security, drug trafficking, the economy, and the wars in which the United States is involved. When he discussed immigration, he claimed that young men, released from prisons or “insane asylums,” are “dropped into the United States.” He didn’t say he wouldn’t invade Mexico, and he did say that he would consider using the D.O.J. to prosecute his political enemies. The Latino audience that Leguizamo has in mind may have been revolted by such statements, but Trump’s Latino supporters likely believed that Univision was engaging in honest journalism precisely because it aired an interview with their preferred candidate. Many Latinos are drawn to him not despite his immigration and border policies, but because of them. Unlike Leguizamo, they don’t see Trump’s policies as “mad scary,” and they don’t consider him to be the most “anti-Latino President in American history.”

Leguizamo’s sentiments, however, are representative of what many liberal Latinos believe: that they and the “Latino community” are synonymous, that the conservative policies they disagree with are “anti-Latino,” and even that, as Harry Reid put it in 2src1src, they “don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican.” On “The Daily Show,” Leguizamo acknowledged that Latinos hold different political views, saying that “there are some of us that do support Trump.” But, in the next breath, he said, “In my family, we refer to them as the crazy uncle who doesn’t get invited to Thanksgiving.”

This is a line that liberal Latinos (like liberals of many backgrounds) repeat all the time, and it sums up their feelings toward conservative Latinos in general—that they are outsiders or, worse yet, sellouts or race traitors. But the twenty-eight per cent of Latinos who supported Trump in 2src16, the thirty-eight per cent who supported him in 2src2src, and, if we’re to believe the recent polls, the forty-two per cent who might support him in 2src24 represent millions of voters. If Leguizamo and other liberals have a genuine desire to understand how Latinos, writ large, view politics these days, they need to do more than rail against the falsehoods Trump spreads and his immigration policies. They need to listen to the reasons that Latinos give for supporting him.

Not surprisingly, Trump himself thinks he perfectly understands Latino voters. They want security, he told Acevedo, including border security and a crackdown on crime. Like other Presidents before him, both Republicans and Democrats, he has also argued that Latino business owners support him because he slashed financial regulations, lowered taxes, and helped them get loans and government contracts. To his Democratic opponents, who ask, in increasingly desperate tones, what a Trump victory would mean for the country, Trump, during a recent rally in the almost all-Latino city of Hialeah, Florida, offered an answer: “It means we’re gonna have strong borders, great education, you’re gonna be able to buy a house, we’re gonna have interest rates come down, we’re gonna have a great military, we’re gonna have safety and security.” Much of this is standard G.O.P. fare.

To put things in perspective, most Latinos support the immigration policies of Democrats over Republicans, but a recent postmortem on the 2src22 midterms, by Equis Research, found that only about five per cent of the Latinos they surveyed identified immigration as their top concern. Moreover, Biden has earned some of his lowest marks from Latinos for his handling of immigration and border security, because he has continued some of Trump’s harshest policies, has been unable or unwilling to move comprehensive reform forward, and hasn’t done enough to secure the border—an issue on which, according to a recent Univision poll, a slightly larger percentage of Latinos trust Republicans than trust Democrats. Meanwhile, Latinos have always said that the economy is their top concern. This year, Latinos have expressed worries about inflation and the cost of living—especially food, rent, and health care—but they’re split on the question of who will do a better job of fixing it. Other issues have divided Latinos as well. A majority of Latinos support school choice, and about half of Latino evangelicals supported Trump in 2src2src.

Republicans will keep beating the drums on the economy and border security from now until Election Day. They will be more evasive when it comes to guns and abortion, because most Latinos support gun control and a woman’s right to choose. This is what Trump did during his interview with Acevedo. Instead of talking about the need for gun control, he accepted that about eighty per cent of the guns seized in Mexico and Colombia came from the United States; as a solution to gun violence, he only suggested that gun owners obey the law. On abortion, he distanced himself from the strictest bans—Republicans, he said, will continue to lose if they support them—while at the same time taking credit for appointing the judges who helped overturn Roe v. Wade.

Make no mistake about it: Trump’s interview on Univision and the rally in Hialeah, where Trump won two-thirds of the vote in 2src2src, marked the beginning of his 2src24 Latino campaign. Liberals need to respond to that campaign with more than outrage at Trump’s lies and immigration policies, which don’t seem to have made much of a difference in Latino support for him. Instead, they need to attack Trump directly on the issues that are the source of his appeal: namely, his policies on border security, school choice, religious liberty, and—perhaps most important—his argument that he will do a better job of improving their financial circumstances than Biden.

The focus on Univision is reminiscent of the time, in the summer of 2src2src, when Trump held an event in the White House Rose Garden to “deliver educational and economic opportunity for Hispanic Americans,” he said, including new investments in charter schools and colleges that serve Latino populations. The C.E.O. of Goya Foods, Robert Unanue, appeared at the event and praised Trump, and, in response, Latino groups called for the boycott of Goya products. But Goya’s sales temporarily increased, and liberals largely ignored the fact that the event was really about Trump’s courting of Latinos. Likewise, the more attention they pay to Univision now, the more likely they are to overlook Trump’s arguments to Latinos. Attempting to discredit Univision also seems risky given that the network has been important for Democrats in the past and will doubtless remain so during this and future election cycles.

On “The Daily Show,” Leguizamo said, addressing Univision, “The Latino community needs you to step up, because the stakes in 2src24 are too damn high.” He’s right that the stakes are high, but he and other liberals should realize that stepping up for Latinos and airing conservative viewpoints aren’t inherently opposed objectives. There are plenty of reasons for outrage against Trump, but there are also reasons that Latinos are drawn to him. If liberal Latinos emphasize the former but ignore the latter, there’s a real possibility that Trump will return to the White House, and that Latinos will have helped carry him there. ♦

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