The clash between Donald Trump and Jorge Ramos and the anti-immigrant tone of the Republican campaign has caused many internal reactions in social media and conversations on the topic in the Latino community. The question is: will it also generate civic participation and voting of this community in the elections next year?
For the observers, the 2016 Republican presidential race has echoes of California in 1994, the year that then Governor Pete Wilson supported a measure called Proposition 187 for the November ballot and to boost his reelection. The measure intended to remove access to education and health care for undocumented immigrants.
“We clearly see something of what happened in 1994 in the type of immigration debate that is taking place, and the rhetoric used,” said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. “The animosity toward the Republican Party that then arose among Latinos in California still persists.”
The measure passed and was later stopped by the courts, but in subsequent years Latinos in the state reacted by increased naturalization and participation rates, leading to political changes and the election of a new political class, mostly Democratic.
But this time we are talking about a presidential election and much more is at stake.
Some believe that the momentum is clear. “If someone had written a script to reactivate and re-energize the Latino vote, Donald Trump would be the perfect main character,” said Leo Briones, a political campaign consultant in Los Angeles. “His irreverent, disrespectful style is inciting hatred against Latinos.”
Not so fast, says Roberto Suro, a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California (USC).
“Latinos and immigrants are the only group that Trump has repeatedly attacked without suffering any negative consequences,” Suro said. “At what point do Latinos become relevant to a Republican primary contest, and the answer is never. You can get nominated with zero Latino votes in the Republican party.”
As for the general election, Suro said that “Latinos have shown more than once that they have the ability to stay home and not vote. What´s happening is not new, what´s new is that the messenger says things that others were saying with a wink and a nod and he is doing it out loud”.
“If he’s talking about Latinos, rather than women, or gays or African Americans, is because the punishment is much worse if you speak to these groups,” Suro said. “Will Latinos turn out to vote as a result to this? We don´t know. It depends who the candidates are.”
Adrian Pantoja, Pitzer College professor, the tone of the campaign is not only anti-Latino but “damaging to democracy and the electoral process.”
“I do not remember a presidential primary in which rhetoric has been so xenophobic,” Pantoja said.
But Suro, examples exist and remains to be seen how much the Latino community cares on this occasion.
“It depends on how long this issue,” he added. “It’s a very unusual candidate is breaking a lot of rules.”
(A Spanish version of this piece appeared in La Opinion newspaper August 27th)