Opinion: Trump’s the nominee, but Latino voters can’t be taken for granted

Presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally in Spokane, Washington, May 7, 2016.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally in Spokane, Washington, May 7, 2016.  (ap)

Shortly after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president, I was a guest on a radio show to discuss where we go from here. The host posed a question I have been asked before: now that Trump is the nominee, don’t we basically have the Latino vote shored up? 

While I understand the appeal in simply sitting back and watching as Trump continues to alienate Latino communities, the answer to the question of whether we can rest on our laurels is a resounding no. Latino voters cannot be taken for granted — and we as Latino voters cannot take this election for granted.

When we show up and participate on Election Day, we shape the future of the country and ensure that our priorities become law.

- Lizet Ocampo

Why? First of all, there is the issue of turnout: anti-Trump anger is not the same thing as anti-Trump votes. It’s up to all of us to engage our families and neighbors and make sure we turn out in force to prevent Donald Trump from ever becoming the president of our country. That work starts well before Election Day, engaging others to check that their voter registration is up to date and making sure our communities are ready to cast ballots in November. 

We’ve seen time and again that when we participate and vote, Latino communities can decide elections — and this year, we can make more of a difference than ever before. 

The number of Latino eligible voters in 2016 is expected to be a full 40 percent higher than in 2008, a record high. And we’re in states that will determine the next president and who controls the Senate. But another number rising to new heights in each election? Eligible Latino voters who do not vote

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If we stay home this year, that’s a vote for Donald Trump.

Second, we don’t know the degree to which Trump will attempt to pivot away from or “soften” his anti-Latino rhetoric and policy proposals. Trump’s campaign chief said recently that “the part he’s been playing is evolving” and that Trump can be expected to shift into a more professional persona. Given his ability to slip away from his past statements, that’s not a threat we should take lightly. 

So far, though, he has shown no signs of letting up since the very beginning, when he kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants criminals, drug dealers, and rapists. He wants to use a deportation force to rip apart families and forcibly remove over 11 million undocumented people from our country. He seems to be “borrowing” immigration policy ideas from Steve King, the Iowa representative who infamously smeared DREAMers as drug runners with “calves the size of cantaloupes.” 

If Trump ever tries to distance himself from these outrageous policies and comments, we have to make clear that he can’t erase his words or the damage his policies would create. Latino voters have already seen Trump’s true colors.

And it’s not just Trump. Trump is backed by a Republican party that has not only failed to stand up to his inflammatory rhetoric but has been actively pushing his brand of anti-Latino policy proposals for years. Republican leaders at the federal, state and local level are falling in line to support him and proving that the problem is far bigger than one person – it’s the whole party. Just take a look at the anti-Latino, anti-immigrant show this Republican Congress has repeatedly put on in committee hearings and through numerous floor votes on bills against our community.

Our community has always had to fight for everything we have, and this is no different. From basic workplace protections to immigration system reforms to access to healthcare, Latinas and Latinos continue to fight an uphill battle for essential protections. Now that fight is about keeping a payaso who has consistently dehumanized our communities, as well as those who stand with him, from coming into power. 

We have a voice in who’s making the decisions affecting our families, and we have to ensure that the person at the very top of our country’s decision-making chain is not an out-of-touch bigot who wants to tear apart parents and children and whose idea of effective Latino outreach is tweeting out offensive photos of himself in front of a taco bowl. 

To this, Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican party, says “he’s trying.” 

There is a lot of hard work that still lies ahead of us, and Latino voters should never be taken for granted. But when we show up and participate on Election Day, we shape the future of the country and ensure that our priorities become law. If we don’t show up, we hand our support to a man who has done everything he can to attack and undermine Latino communities.

Lizet Ocampo is the director of  Latinos Vote! and manager of political campaigns at People For the American Way.

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