At the start, you might have argued that Donald Trump was just trying to challenge saccharine notions about illegal immigration — even if his vision of a “great wall” sounded like a heavy-handed sales gimmick.
When he declared for the presidency a year ago this week, Trump said Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Denunciations followed. Still, if you really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, this could have been explained, maybe, as a crude description of a perceived problem from a novice candidate — or a finger pointed more at government policies than at a national or ethnic group.
One year later, it’s clear that Trump’s Hispanic problem is not just a matter of policy.
Nor will it do to say he's merely rejecting "political correctness."
Add up the flash points of the past couple of weeks, and his hostility looks like a fixed, clear pattern. Even a number of “non-PC” Republicans see a hard-wired animus, a personal prejudice.
Alarm bells rang loudest last week when Trump began citing the Mexican-American roots of a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit against one of the billionaire's defunct businesses. The case has nothing to do with Mexico, but Trump suggests without evidence that District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s “heritage” makes him a “Trump hater” and presents an “absolute conflict.”
Then there’s New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the nation’s only Latina governor and head of the Republican Governors Association. In a visit last month to Albuquerque, Trump attacked her record.
“Since 2000, the number of people on food stamps in New Mexico has tripled,” he said. “Your governor . . . is not doing the job.”
Never mind that she became governor in 2011.
During the Republican primaries, Trump happened to hurl some of his nastiest insults at the two Cuban-Americans in the race, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. He mocked them with belittling nicknames and particularly whacked Rubio on immigration.
On the day of the Indiana primary, Trump darkly hinted that Cruz’s Cuban-born father may somehow have been involved in the Kennedy assassination. He cited supermarket tabloid’s report that a grainy photo of Lee Harvey Oswald giving out “Hands off Cuba” pamphlets in New Orleans included a man who was, or at least resembled, Rafael Cruz.
Maybe his attack on these rivals was completely coincidental with their ethnicity.
Maybe it was only a coincidence that the last names of two TV network reporters he singled out to blast last week as a “sleaze” and a “beauty” happened to be Llamas and Acosta.
Maybe it was just a coincidence that Trump called Jorge Ramos of Univision, whom he got ejected from a news conference in August, “emotional.” Ramos was giving a long sermon of a question when he got tossed. Trump said, “Go back to Univision!”
Maybe it was just a misunderstanding that Trump’s photo of himself with a “Taco Bowl” to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, while tweeting “I Love Hispanics,” was widely viewed as caustic and condescending.
Maybe he isn’t just trying to bait and inflame when he says “Hispanics love me.”
Whatever Trump’s personal feelings, it doesn’t take mercenary Democrats, or lefty practitioners of identity politics, to see his chronic personally-based problems with Latinos.
Last week, it came out that Ruth Guerra, the head of Hispanic media relations for the Republican National Committee, was resigning amid published reports she was uncomfortable working with Trump.
Before stepping up to replace Guerra, Helen Aguirre Ferré deleted tweets she’d sent before that blamed Trump for violence at a Chicago rally and saying that his comments about Hispanics were divisive, BuzzFeed reported.
Late last week, Senate GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who says he’s voting for Trump, expressed concern in a televised interview that the candidate could ruin the party’s relations with Hispanics for some time to come.
Going after Gov. Martinez “was a big mistake,” McConnell said. Similar comments from other prominent Republicans followed over the weekend.
Maybe Trump plans to gain support from voter revulsion at the sight of demonstrators burning a flag and growing violent outside his rallies.
But Ana Navarro, a conservative strategist and Trump critic, told The Washington Post: “If you’re a Hispanic holding your breath and hoping for Donald Trump to get better in his outreach to Latinos, you’re going to die of asphyxia.”