Opinion: Trump’s collapse may create opportunity for the GOP to engage Latinos

Who won? Did any of the candidates make inroads with Hispanic voters?


The same arena that has seen the ascent of LeBron James and the beloved Cleveland Cavaliers has now witnessed the stumble of a presidential hopeful that may be shifting the conversation back to what matters most: the future of America and not Donald Trump.

After six weeks of compounding buzz around comments against Mexican immigrants, business deals broken, lawsuits, pageant girls affected and a media frenzy like no other, Donald Trump has managed to turn controversy into opportunity by rising to the top of most national polls as the Republican front-runner. 

While a party may not win over Latinos with immigration alone, they may lose it if immigration is ignored or discussed with disrespect towards the parent, grandparent, friend or neighbor that Hispanic voters may know and love but who is stuck in the absence of a process that really works.

- Lili Gill Valletta

However, while his raw and unscripted rhetoric may be resonating with frustrated voters, it has also unraveled opposition from the same voter block the GOP so desperately needs to win, Hispanics. In fact, simple electoral math reveals that without the support of America’s fastest growing population segment, Republicans will not win the White House in 2016.

25.2 million Latinos are eligible to vote and 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every month, making the Hispanic vote increasingly important for both political parties. In 2012, Latinos helped President Obama win key battle ground states with 71 percent of the Hispanic vote versus Romney’s 27 percent, the lowest Republicans have seen in three elections.

While the Hispanic voter base is rapidly growing in size and influence, the GOP’s ability to resonate with Latinos is rapidly shrinking; especially with front-runners like Trump setting the tone and dominating the conversation. In a poll for the 2016 presidential campaign, conducted among Hispanic voters in an exclusive by Noticias Univisión, 79 percent found Trump’s comments offensive. But, could it be possible that the first presidential debate re-opens the door for the party to successfully engage Latinos?

As many waited in anticipation to get a peek behind Trump’s golden curtain, the debate revealed that his raw and unscripted style might not translate well from the boardroom to the podium. With more airtime than any other candidate, Trump failed over and over again to articulate any practical policy and substance to his approach, but instead seemed abrasive and vague.

Coming out of the debate Trump was booed by thousands after admitting he is unwilling to pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee. “I cannot say, ‘I have to respect the person, who is not me,’” Trump said, which may be seen as a direct violation of Regan’s 11th commandment, “thou sall not speak ill of a fellow republican.”

Soon after, he raised eyebrows again after his exchange with Fox News host, Megyn Kelly. “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” she said, which Trump tried to answer with humor yet turned into a passive aggressive response against the host herself; the only female journalist on the interview panel. Like Latinos, women are a key constituent representing 53 percent of the voters. According to official 2012 exit polls, President Barack Obama had a 10-point gender gap over Romney, higher than in most presidential races since 1980.

Raw moments like this, while they may make for great television drama, have consequences with public opinion and the perception of the Republican brand. But could it be possible that this surprising turn might benefit the GOP? If the debate has indeed exposed Trump’s lack of presidential readiness, it may mark a turning point for the GOP to refocus the political conversation to what matter most to offended Hispanic voters; the economy, education, healthcare and immigration- in that order of priority, according to a Univision poll.

So what may resonate with Latinos? Statements like Rubio’s “I know what it is to live paycheck to paycheck” and personal story make the party relatable to the everyday American and immigrant family. Kasich’s desire to get people to believe that “America is a miracle country and we need to restore the sense that the miracle applies to you” rekindles the dreams and aspirations of millions seeking the American dream. Mike Huckabee’s FairTax recommendation may bring clarity to the confusing ecosystem of government filings and paperwork that intimidates many families. And finally, Jeb Bush was the only candidate to make the bridge between immigration and the economy. To him, beyond border security, immigration is an enabler for economic growth. This shifts the conversation from one of walls, amnesty and government freebies to one of talent retention and financial reward.

While a party may not win over Latinos with immigration alone, they may lose it if immigration is ignored or discussed with disrespect towards the parent, grandparent, friend or neighbor that Hispanic voters may know and love but who is stuck in the absence of a process that really works.

And that is how you reach the Hispanic vote and how this debate might have open a door for the party to refocus its voice from the Trump noise. With a consistent message that focuses on what every American cares about, a better future for America.

Lili Gil Valletta is an award-winning entrepreneur, multicultural marketing strategist, Fox News independent contributor and co-founder of XL Alliance. She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and member of the Harvard Kennedy School Women's Leadership Board.