Cleveland – The Republican National Convention kicking off Monday in Cleveland is noticeably less diverse than previous ones, even that of 2012, when the nominee was Mitt Romney — who was unpopular among Latinos.
Nonetheless, Romney had more Latino speakers lined up than presumptive candidate Donald Trump now has.
The only Latinos so far in a prominent speaking role in Cleveland are his former primary rivals Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz, who delivered a strong performance and gave Trump – by his own admission – the stiffest competition before he withdrew in early May.
Many of the GOP’s most prominent Latino lawmakers are skipping the convention, including New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who had a primetime speaking role at the 2012 convention, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Florida House members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.
“A lot of Latino Republican leaders are not coming to the convention,” noted Al Cardenas, the former head of the influential American Conservative Union as well as the former chair of the Florida Republican Party. “We have less Latino Republicans coming to the convention than before.”
Cardenas had backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s candidacy for the GOP nomination.
Asked about the dearth of Latino speakers, Trump national spokeswoman Katrina Pierson just said, “There will be many surprises.”
She declined to elaborate beyond that, saying that the Trump campaign wanted “real people” instead of major figures.
Latino leaders say it’s important for the convention to show prominent Latinos. In 2012, GOP leaders pointed to prime time speakers such Martinez as a reflection of how Latinos and other minorities could advance with the party and have a place on the big stage.
“That’s been disappointing, because Latinos see things like that and it gives them reason to wonder,” Daniel Garza, head of the Libre Initiative, said to Fox News Latino.
“That’s why his numbers have been so low,” Garza said, referring to poll numbers that show low support for Trump among Latinos. “The Latino community wants to know it’s going to have a voice in the Trump administration that will be inclusive.”
Garza said that this week Trump must make “a loud aggressive courting of the Latino electorate.”
“I don’t see him on Univision, on Fox News Latino, on Telemundo,” Garza said. “I want to see him and Pence speaking to Latinos, clarifying positions to the community and sending a message that they will be inclusive. They are not seeing themselves in this campaign.”
In recent weeks, the Trump campaign has been putting in place expanded communication teams that seek to reach out to a broader audience beyond his diehard followers. That includes people focusing on Latino outreach, something that most other GOP and Democratic candidates during the primaries already had in place from early on. On Monday, a group of prominent Latino conservatives announced they would endorse Trump and would urge other Latinos to do so as well.
Also, the Republican platform is said to include one of the boldest commitments in GOP convention history to statehood for Puerto Rico, sources note.
Alfonso Aguilar, head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, one of the groups endorsing Trump, said he is encouraged by the selection of Pence as Trump’s running mate.
“Throughout his time in Congress in Washington, he always had Hispanic outreach people on his staff,” said Aguilar, a former official of the George W. Bush administration. “He was supportive of comprehensive immigration reform. He was supportive of George Bush’s immigration plans, he went to the White House to speak with him about it. He introduced legislation to create a guest worker program.”
Aguilar, who was dead-set against Trump just a few months ago, said his recent toning down on rhetoric, along with the choice of Pence, moved him closer to supporting the mogul as nominee.
“Trump can be offensive, he can be bombastic,” Aguilar said. “But Hillary Clinton is a dangerous choice. The way she handled email, the way lied about the mail being classified, she’s not trustworthy.”
“She promised the other day she would pass immigration reform within the first 100 days,” Aguilar said. “That’s an insult to the intelligence of the Latino community. That’s the same thing President Obama said he would do, and he didn’t.”