Let’s say this right up front: one doesn’t have to be “soft” on illegal immigration to win Hispanic voters – and no bloc of voters is worth publicly embracing a disastrous policy or one that would be injurious to the nation as a whole. That having been said, things like tone and emphasis matter within the context of this complex debate, and the tone Trump has taken in the primaries may have already effectively doomed his general election campaign.
Probably, we are past the point where the GOP Presidential candidate can have a reasonable chance of outright winning the Hispanic vote. However, not all losses are created equal. George W. Bush was competitive for the Hispanic vote, winning 34% in 2000 and around 40% in 2004. Notably, the Hispanic vote accounted for 5.5% of the total vote in 2000 and 6.0% in 2004 – meaning that the Hispanic vote gave Al Gore 1.8% overall edge in 2000, and John Kerry an overall edge of only 1.2% in 2004. Of course, these two elections resulted in Republican wins.
In 2008, of course, [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] was only able to win 31% of the Hispanic vote. More disastrously, though, the share of the Hispanic vote increased overall to represent 9% of the total electorate, meaning that Hispanics gave Obama an overall edge of 3.42%. Romney’s showing in 2012 was even worse, as he won only 27% of the Hispanic vote, and Hispanics came to represent 10% of the overall electorate – meaning that Hispanics gave Obama an overall advantage of 4.4%. This would prove to be larger than Obama’s overall margin of victory (3.9%).
Given the sharply divided nature of the national electorate, it seems facially obvious that a Republican candidate cannot survive an election where the Hispanic vote is both a) sharply opposed to the Republican candidate and b) highly motivated to vote.
All of this makes recent polling by Gallup on Hispanic attitudes toward the GOP field highly germane to the “electability” discussion. Hispanics have mostly positive-to-neutral attitudes towards the GOP candidates – ranging from +11 (Bush) to -7 (Cruz). Any of these numbers would be at least palatable in a general election candidate – however, Trump’s favorability rating among Hispanics is an astounding -51, which would suggest that if Trump were the nominee, he would lose the Hispanic vote by an unprecedented margin, and also most likely face a highly energized phalanx of Hispanic voters. This information should also inform our view of head-to-head polling testing Trump against the Democrat candidates, since Hispanic voters are likely under polled in Presidential elections (although to what extent remains a topic of hot debate).
All of which, ultimately, makes Trump’s immigration proposals completely moot in the larger discussion. If nominated, he likely cannot win. Most likely, Romney either maxed out the white vote in 2012 or relatively close to it, and still lost. The Republican candidate, whoever he or she is, cannot expect to win if they lose the Hispanic vote by 50 points, and if their share of the electorate continues to rise, as they would be if the visceral dislike of Trump reflected in this Gallup poll is accurate.