Young Hispanic Conservatives Grapple with Whether to Vote for Trump
By Betty Arreola
For Reporting Texas
Carla Hernandez, 20, leaned toward the Republican Party at the beginning of the presidential primary season. But two weeks ago, she voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hernandez, a third-generation Mexican-American, felt she could not vote for Republican Donald Trump because of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“He said hateful things against my people — hard-working, good American people,” said Hernandez, a sophomore biology student at the University of Texas at Austin. “Even if we aren’t immigrants ourselves, we are descendants. He can’t serve us, and I can’t vote for him.”
Darlene Duncan, 19, has supported Trump from the beginning of his campaign and recently voted for him. Duncan, a first-generation Mexican American, said she appreciates Trump’s skills and directness.
“As a businessman, he’s definitely someone to admire, and as a politician, he’s so vocal and speaks his mind,” said Duncan, a freshman business student at Baylor University in Waco. “Maybe his comments or tweets weren’t the best, but he was always very straightforward.”
Gaining support among Hispanic millennials is particularly challenging for Trump, who has said many Mexican immigrants are criminals, that he would build a wall to stop illegal immigration and create a special force to deport undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
According to a Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic registered voters, 15 percent of surveyed millennials — people ages 18 to 35 – said they would vote for Trump, compared with 48 percent who supported Clinton. The rest said they would vote for another candidate or offered no opinion.
Trump also seems to face difficulties with Hispanic millennials in Texas. A recent survey by the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston found millennial Latinos in the state favored Clinton by a 3-to-1 margin.
Hispanic millennials could play an important role in the election, as they account for 44 percent of the projected 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters nationwide, according to a Pew analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Hispanic millennials also are a growing force in Texas, which has 10.4 million Hispanics — second only to California — with about 4.8 million of them eligible to vote.
But at least in Texas, it seems that no major organized efforts have been made to mobilize conservative young Hispanics.
“The [Republican] party is concerned but lacks the ability to act on it,” said Artemio Muniz, chairman of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans. “We know that we can’t have individuals in Washington, D.C., talking down to groups and expect support.”
Muniz, who is Houston director of Hispanic engagement for the Republican National Committee, also said that no marketing efforts were made to mobilize young voters because the group is difficult to reach. In September, he participated in a forum organized by the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute in San Antonio to discuss the importance of the millennial vote.
“Most young voters are open-minded, but have been disappointed by the government,” Muniz said. “I told them to vote Republican, even if they don’t choose to support Trump.”
Carla Hernandez is an independent, but considers herself a conservative, with views shaped by her Christian values and heritage. That is why she supported U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at the beginning of the Republican primary season. At the time, she intended to vote Republican in the presidential election, but Trump’s attitude toward immigrants was too much for her to bear.
Hernandez, who grew up in Eagle Pass, on the border with Mexico 140 miles southwest of San Antonio, said she saw immigrants and their sacrifices, as well as their desires to find a job. But to her surprise, Hernandez knows other young U.S.-born Hispanics from her city who agree with Trump.
“I think a lot of them are forgetting about where their ancestors came from,” said Hernandez. “It’s easier to exclude yourself from the group that’s being oppressed, especially if you’re in a place where no one is being racist towards you because everyone is like you.”
Hernandez added that she can’t ignore her roots or the “red flags” on Trump, which for her outweigh red flags on Clinton regarding the controversy over her use of a private email server for government messages when she was secretary of state.
“I understand that voting for Clinton may go against some of the ideals that I’ve had growing up and still hold to be true,” said Hernandez. “But I also understand that there’s a choice to be made. Even in the Bible, there’s free will.”
Like Hernandez, Darlene Duncan formed her political views based on her Christian and family beliefs, but she stands with the Republican Party. Duncan, who grew up in Harlingen, 30 miles from the U.S.- Mexican border, doesn’t support Trump’s plan to build a wall to stop illegal immigration; most of her maternal relatives still live in Mexico. But she considers national security and reducing crime to be priority issues.
Trump’s negative comments about Mexicans didn’t affect her because her relatives aren’t criminals, she said. Instead she is focused on his ideas for improving the economy, and on education, health care, foreign policy, and veterans assistance.
According to Duncan, “long, hearty talks” about politics are common in her hometown. Her mother, who was born in Mexico City, has encouraged her to be politically informed and engaged. She also believes that Trump will be an effective president, despite his views toward minority groups.
“I am sure that we have had plenty of other presidents who had flaws and have been racists toward other races,” Duncan said. “No one is perfect. I’m sure that there are things that Clinton has said in the past about minorities that are not good, and no one is looking at those.”
For Duncan “it’s choosing the lesser of two evils as the leader:…Do I want someone that is a liar, or do I want someone that says things that hurt some people’s feelings sometimes?”
Duncan disapproves of what Trump described as his “locker-room talk” regarding women and knows that some Republican officials don’t support him. But she also said that the media’s focus on Trump has prompted some unfair reactions.
The problem with this high-profile presidential race is that people develop their attitudes early in life, and it will be difficult for the Republican Party to disassociate itself from its candidate’s anti-immigrant and anti-Latino positions, said Jason Casellas, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
“There has been a lot of damage done with the Trump canvas, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to undo,” said Casellas. “In Texas, the establishment Republicans get that.”