Months since Donald Trump sparked outrage with his comments about Mexican immigrants, about two dozen of the nation's top Hispanic conservative activists are joining forces to respond and issue a warning to the Republican Party.
The activists plan to meet on Oct. 27 in Boulder, Colo., the day before GOP presidential candidates meet in the same city for a debate hosted by CNBC. Plans for the "unprecedented gathering" have been in the works for several weeks, according to organizers, who shared the details first with The Washington Post.
Attendees will be "the people and organizations the RNC and GOP campaigns count on to engage the Latino electorate," said Alfonso Aguilar, head of the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership and a lead organizer of the meeting. "We’ll discuss the tone of the primary, comments about the Hispanic community and some of the immigration proposals that have been made."
After the meeting, the group plans to hold a news conference to "identify several candidates that will not have our support and who we are certain that if they become the GOP nominee will not get enough Latino voter support to win the general election," Aguilar said.
The meeting will include representatives of the LIBRE Initiative, a group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers that is building conservative grassroots support among Hispanics. Also in the room will be leaders of the Latino Coalition, a national organization of Hispanic business leaders; the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a conservative group; the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Latino evangelical organization that has hosted events with several presidential candidates; and veterans of past GOP campaigns and presidential administrations.
Aguilar said they will focus especially on the comments and proposals of Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) among others. Trump sparked outrage for suggesting in his announcement speech that undocumented immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists, while Cruz credited the New York businessman for raising the issue of immigration and refused to condemn the comments.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaks in Washington Sept. 25. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)
Trump and Cruz also support ending birthright citizenship, and most of their talk on immigration focuses primarily on fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border, despite declines in illegal border crossings in recent years.
Trump also has sparred repeatedly with reporters — especially from Spanish-language outlets favored by many Latino voters — whenever he's asked about his offensive comments or for details of his immigration plan. As a result, Latinos have increasingly unfavorable views of Trump and the Republican Party.
But overall, Trump remains dominant atop the Republican field. He earned the support of 32 percent of Republican and GOP-leaning voters in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week. And he is enjoying wider leads in other national polls and of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Cruz, meanwhile, is one of the party's most prolific fundraisers and is enjoying strong support in Iowa.
And yet — as GOP leaders have warned — it is mathematically impossible for a presidential candidate to win the White House without significant Latino support. Republican Mitt Romney failed to win the 2012 race in part because he grabbed just 27 percent of the Latino vote, a decline from the numbers earned by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Romney's suggestion that many undocumented immigrants would "self-deport" was seen as a fatal mistake that ruined any hope of building on McCain's numbers.
With Latinos accounting for much of the population growth in the West, Southwest and Midwest, winning them over will be even more critical in several more swing states next year, including Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Several Hispanic conservatives said they plan to attend, if only to draw more attention to the concerns of Latino Republicans upset by how little party leaders and other candidates have stood up to Trump's attacks.
The inclusion of the LIBRE Initiative is especially notable, given its wealthy benefactors and how quickly the group has begun organizing in several states with large Latino populations. On Tuesday, the group hosted former Florida governor Jeb Bush for a candidate forum in Las Vegas and has already hosted similar meetings with Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Daniel Garza, the group's executive director, said he is unable to attend in person but is sending other colleagues in his place. "We care very much about the narrative and how the right talks about Latinos," he said.
Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, said in an e-mail that "it must be crystal clear to my fellow conservatives: Border security and reforming the current system that impedes the rule of law are both necessary to resolving the current immigration mess our country is in. But every insult hurled at hardworking Hispanic families and thinly-veiled anti-immigrant pandering not only gets the radical Left one step closer to keeping hold of the White House, it imperils progress on a whole host of issues that conservatives hold dear."
Aguilar said that others planning to attend the meeting include Rosario Marin, the former U.S. treasurer, and Massey Villareal, the former chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Leaders of the chamber met with Trump in September and the candidate initially agreed to appear at a forum hosted by the group, but later backed out.
Other attendees have asked that their names be withheld for now, Aguilar said.
The Cruz campaign pushed back against suggestions that conservative Hispanic leaders are upset with the senator, pointing to frequent meetings he or his representatives have had with Hispanic groups or their leaders.
They also passed along a statement from Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the NHCLC, saying their recent meetings with Cruz "speak to a leader who we admire and appreciate. His commitment to country, faith and family reflect Latino conservative values indeed. He has been nothing less than gracious and accommodating as it pertains to listening to our concerns regarding the 2016 election. Senator Ted Cruz is not Donald Trump."