Given how intensely Latinos detest Donald Trump, many Democrats probably assumed that America’s fastest-growing group of voters would flock to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — and by such margins that Democrats running for Congress could ride her coattails.
This is not happening. With just a few weeks until Election Day, Democrats must look at the level of enthusiasm that Latinos have for Clinton and wonder: “Where’s the love?”
According to a recent article in The Washington Post, with support lagging among Latino voters for Clinton and congressional candidates in key races, Democrats are worried that they’re squandering the opportunity to lock down the Latino vote as a permanent part of the Democratic coalition.
Clinton still holds a roughly 4-to-1 lead over Trump in polls, with nearly 80 percent of Latinos disapproving of the Republican nominee’s words, deeds, policies and character.
But what has Democrats concerned is that Clinton isn’t measuring up to where President Barack Obama was with Latino voters in 2012. And that enthusiasm gap could translate into a lower-than-expected turnout among Latinos that would really hurt Clinton in battleground states with substantial Latino populations such as Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
When it comes to selling Latinos on her candidacy, Clinton just can’t close. Here are six reasons why:
Latinos are more cynical than they were eight years ago because Obama betrayed them. While running for president in 2008, Obama promised to make immigration reform a top priority and blasted the George W. Bush administration for deporting illegal immigrants. But once he got into office, Obama put the issue on the back burner during his first term, and ratcheted up deportations to record levels.
With Latinos, a little respect goes a long way. The Clinton campaign had early stumbles. First, it likened the former secretary of state to a Latino grandmother, hoping that the emotion that Latinos have for one would transfer over to the other. That backfired because many Latinos would just as soon leave their grandma out of politics. Then Latino Democrats began to call her “La Hillary.” That didn’t work either. All the while, Clinton kept mentioning to Latino crowds that she loves hot sauce.
Latinos never forget. Clinton was once a hard-liner on immigration, boasting to a conservative New York radio host in 2003 that she was “adamantly against illegal immigrants.” And of course, in 2014, when more than 80,000 refugees from Central America – most of them women and children – crossed the border, Clinton sounded callous when she said, during a CNN town hall, that the youngsters “should be sent back.” She later softened her stance.
As Clinton has noted, a Mexican proverb says: “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres.” (Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.) Voters are right to ask whether she shares the views of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who militarized the U.S.-Mexico border in 1994 through Operation Gatekeeper and signed into law a dreadful immigration bill in 1996 that made it easier to deport folks and harder for them to return.
Latinos know they’re being ignored so Clinton and her surrogates can spend time courting working-class whites in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The selection of Tim Kaine as Clinton’s running mate, as opposed to a Latino like Housing Secretary Julian Castro or Labor Secretary Tom Perez, symbolized the Democrats’ priorities.
inally, according to the Post, many Latino Democrats complain that the Clinton campaign was late rolling out Spanish-language ads in key markets. The campaign was more preoccupied with wooing English-speaking Latino millennials who, ironically, are now the least excited about Clinton. Contrast that with Obama’s 2012 campaign, which targeted immigrant communities and naturalized voters through appearances on Spanish-language radio and television.
Democrats are learning a hard lesson. They assumed that the fact that Latinos hated Trump would translate into them loving Clinton. But, in politics, it does not always follow that those who oppose your adversary are necessarily your allies.
You make allies by treating people with respect, and not approaching them as an afterthought. Votes are earned. Like other Americans, Latinos don’t like being taken for granted. And, before they give their support, it’s always nice to be asked.
Which brings us to the main reason that Hillary Clinton isn’t getting a warmer reception from Latino voters. Look around. She hasn’t earned it.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.