WASHINGTON — Artemio Muniz is a proud Republican, but he is also the son of two Mexican immigrants — a duality that is prompting him to sit out the general presidential election this year.
Muniz, the chairman of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, is one of many Latino Republicans who say they cannot vote for their party’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump.
Trump’s damage to GOP efforts to attract swing-state Latinos is well known. Muniz’s example shows a deeper phenomenon at work: The businessman is alienating Hispanics who already consider themselves Republicans, including elected officials and party leaders.
Trump captured headlines last week by singling out New Mexico’s GOP governor, Susana Martinez, for punishing scorn during a visit to her state. Martinez, the party’s highest-profile Latina, has not endorsed Trump — a reluctance that was probably exacerbated by his attack on her governing abilities.
Sometimes, Trump’s rhetoric is hurtful to a swath of voters, Hispanic conservatives said in interviews. They are offended by his comments claiming Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, by his pledge to build a Mexican border wall, and by his promise of mass deportations. They cannot stomach the idea of voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton, some said, so they will leave their presidential ballot blank.
“Donald Trump comes across as a villain in a telenovela,” Muniz said, referencing the Latin American soap opera genre. “He fits the stereotype to a T. They don’t need ominous music or a translator.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
By substantial margins, Trump is the most unpopular candidate among Hispanics, with more than three-quarters viewing him unfavorably in a Gallup poll released in March. Among Hispanic Republicans, Trump polled at 60 percent in unfavorability, worse than Democratic candidates Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
“Those are historic numbers,” said Florida-based GOP consultant Alex Patton. “He should be very concerned, especially in a swing state like Florida with significant numbers of Latino voters.”
Many conservative Latinos support hard-line immigration reform but said they found Trump’s solutions quixotic at best.
They said he would need to pivot on his more outlandish proposals, particularly his plan to deport every undocumented immigrant, as well as apologize for his nativist rhetoric, in order for them to back him.
Still, though the decision to desert Trump was necessary, they said, it wasn’t painless.
“I’m heartbroken,” Guillermo Arauz, a conservative Mexican immigrant, said. “It breaks my heart that a party that has been honorable and decent and has conservative beliefs has allowed what I would say is a circus master to be the de facto leader.”
Arauz, who lives in Chicago, came to the United States at the age of 2. He describes himself as a “very patriotic” Republican.
For Republicans, the stakes in their bid to win over Hispanics are high. The group continues to be the fastest-growing chunk of the electorate, gaining 17 percent in eligible voters since 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2004, Republican support among Latinos in general elections peaked when President George W. Bush corralled 40 percent of their vote but has since trended down, with the GOP scraping a dismal 27 percent for nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
In response to that poor showing, Republican leaders worked to reach out to Hispanics. The national party released a 100-page report that stressed rebranding itself to minorities by reforming immigration policy, meeting with prominent minority organizations, and curtailing what Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus called “biologically stupid” remarks.
Then Trump came along.
“The entire autopsy on what we’re going to do to reach out to minority and women voters got ‘Trumped,’ ” Patton said. “I hope the GOP can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.’’
Among the Latino GOP leaders, support for their party’s assumed nominee is low, with several US representatives from Florida denouncing his candidacy.
Yet, many anti-Trump conservative Latinos said they will not vote for the likely Democratic nominee, either.
“Right now, Latinos are thinking one candidate is insulting us and the other wants to use us politically,” said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. “Latino voters are smarter. You have to do more to get the Latino vote than say, ‘I’m not Trump.’ ”
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said the Latino Christian community feels “great angst on both sides.” Rodriguez, who identifies himself as an independent, said he is insulted by Trump but finds Clinton’s pro-abortion rights and “increased government” stances horrifying as well — a no-win position this election cycle.
“I can’t believe we’re living in this kind of world,” Rodriguez said of Trump’s upcoming nomination. “I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe or a rift in space-time continuum. It’s surreal.”
Nonetheless, some Latinos know how unpredictable Trump can be and have not ruled out supporting him should he engage in some soul-searching first.
Muniz mentioned that many Mexican-Americans used to admire Trump, tying his entrepreneurial, can-do spirit to the immigrant community’s own resolve to make a better life in America. Trump’s choice to start demonizing immigrants was seen as a betrayal, Muniz said.
Muniz and other anti-Trump Latino Republicans said they are waiting for a sign that the candidate wants to repair his standing in their community.
It’s unclear whether such a gesture is coming. Trump has made headlines for his notorious taco bowl tweet on Cinco de Mayo, in which he grinned beside a Mexican-inspired Trump Tower Grill dish and wrote, “I love Hispanics!” However, he also sent a video message to a national Latino Christian conference on May 20, promising to combat minority unemployment. He ended his message saying: “National, Hispanic, Christian. Three great words.”
More such bridges must be built, some say.
“He would have to change his entire approach to Hispanics,” Patton said. “I’m not sure he’s got that in him.”