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Trump Makes a Play for Hispanic Evangelicals

Trump Makes a Play for Hispanic Evangelicals

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The presumptive Republican nominee will address the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in a pre-recorded message.


Donald Trump is looking to break down the political wall between him and a segment of Hispanic voters: Latino evangelicals who tend to vote Republican.

Trump aides have told the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee will submit videotaped remarks to be played at their annual conference this weekend in California. It's one of his most overt moves to date to repair the damage he has done with members of the crucial Latino voting bloc, many of whom have bristled at Trump's past name-calling, stereotyping, and calls to deport undocumented immigrants.

“It would be the first time that I’m aware of that he’s addressing, even though it’s a videotaped message, a Latino organization,” said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “That’s encouraging, honestly."

The Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the leadership conference and one of the nation's most influential Hispanic evangelical leaders, told Bloomberg Politics that Trump's message will be played before more than 1,200 Hispanic leaders who are meeting Friday and Saturday to discuss “issues that are important to evangelical Latinos” at what's being called the Latin Leaders Fest. 

It's unclear what Trump will say in the taped recording to the group. Trump's campaign aides declined to comment. After the publication of this story, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s Latino outreach staff contacted the conference to say she will be submitting recorded remarks as well, Rodriguez said.

The inclusion of Trump's message does not constitute an endorsement for the Republican, Rodriguez said. 

“I have said before, that while I will not endorse any candidate, I will continue to seek the candidates’ endorsement of a pro-life, pro-family, religious liberty, immigration reform agenda, which is of utmost importance to Latino evangelical voters,” Rodriguez said. “He must redeem the narrative with Latinos, and in particular people of faith committed to the aforementioned values.”

It’s not surprising that Trump opted to record his remarks for this year's gathering, Wilkes said, rather than deliver his remarks in person.

“From what I know of them, if he did appear in person, they’d have some words for him,” Wilkes said. Hispanic evangelicals don’t like intolerance toward immigrants, he said. 
For conservative politicians who want to court Hispanic voters, Latino evangelicals are the most fertile ground. They are concerned with moral issues and are more likely to side with Republicans more than the Catholic Latino population, polling shows. About 55 percent of U.S. Latinos identify as Catholic; just 16 percent of Hispanics describe themselves as evangelical, according to the Pew Research Center.

While Trump has described his own positions during the presidential campaign as “flexible,” he will need to convince Hispanic voters that this is also true of the issues he has made staples of his campaign. 

During the Republican primary, Trump used a tough stance on illegal immigration to fuel his insurgent campaign, promising that he will build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He referred broadly to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers,” and used other language that many Latinos considered offensive.

Rodriguez said a survey of his organization's members showed that Hispanic evangelicals are still making up their minds about who to support in the 2016 presidential race.
“The NHCLC stands committed not to the agenda of the donkey or the elephant but exclusively to the lamb’s agenda,” he said. “Accordingly, we will encourage Latino people of faith to vote life, family, religious liberty and immigration reform.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a presidential hopeful who advocated easing immigration laws, gave the headline speech at last year's event in Texas.
It’s logical for Trump to try to broaden his appeal with evangelicals, and if he’s going to make any in-roads with Hispanics, it will be with Latino evangelicals, said Geoffrey Layman, a politics professor at the University of Notre Dame.

“I suspect that even there he doesn't have a great chance,” Layman said. “Racial and ethnic identity will trump religious identity.”

To win against Clinton, Trump will need to peel away any Hispanic votes he can. He doesn’t have to win 50 percent of Latino voters, but it will make a difference if he wins 30 percent of the Latino vote in key swing states, Layman said.

In 2012, about half of Hispanic evangelical Protestants supported President Barack Obama while 39 percent backed Republican Mitt Romney, Pew found. The demographic composition of the 2016 electorate is expected to be about 30 percent non-white, including 13 million likely Hispanic voters, Wilkes said.

Trump's decision to court leaders at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference will likely send a signal to Latino voters nationally, but he has much more work to do, Wilkes said.

“He’s going to have to face the music and go out and talk to the community that he’s been denigrating,” he said.

Rodriguez said his group, a nonpartisan organization, hasn't yet received the video of Trump's remarks. They have reached out to Democrat Bernie Sanders to encourage a similar video message, he said.

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