Republican strategists are warning that Donald Trump's blunt talk and hard line on immigration – and its echoes in other GOP presidential candidates – could risk alienating Hispanic voters in 2016.
"If Republicans want to be competitive in the general election, they have to distance themselves from Trump on both illegal and legal immigration," Alfonso Aguilar, a former official in George W. Bush’s administration and executive director of the conservative American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership, tells The New York Times.
"His proposal on birthright citizenship is very insulting to Latinos, and every day, this is the top story on Spanish language media. Right now, if the other candidates don’t respond to Trump, Latinos will buy the argument that Republicans agree with him."
But some candidates are taking similar positions to Trump, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who also has called for an end to automatic citizenship
for the American-born children of illegal immigrants, and for a repeal of constitutional language dating from the Civil War era.
Trump's call for mass deportations also has found support in the GOP presidential field, The Times reports.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill
last month in the wake of the July shooting death of a San Francisco woman by an illegal immigrant – a case Trump spoke forcefully about
on the stump.
And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants mayors arrested as accomplices in sanctuary cities
— where local law enforcement officials decline to cooperate in federal deportations — when illegal immigrants commit felonies.
The attempt to win over Latinos was a problem in 2012, The Times reports, but could be a lot worse next year, when the population of Latinos eligible to vote is expected to increase by 18 percent to about 28 million people.
Still, the immigration hardline positions are giving some of Trump's GOP rivals ammunition to define their opposition, The Times reports, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who on Monday called the real estate billionaire's immigration plan "gibberish."
"You’re not going to get 11 million people and drive them back out of this country," he said, The Times reports. "That’s just not practical. That’s going to kill the Republican Party."
Rep. Steve King of Iowa tells The Times, however, that Trump's tough talk on immigration won't hurt the party.
"They often say anytime you don’t pander to Hispanics, you cost Republican votes," he tells The Times. "I think Trump gets stronger with this position that says enforce our immigration laws."
But Ryan Call, a former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, says Republican candidates like Sen. Cory Gardner
won election in the state in 2014 by opening a "meaningful dialogue" with Hispanic voters, The Times reports.
"Trump’s plan and rhetoric takes us in exactly the opposite direction and will undermine much of the progress we have made in reaching out to the growing population of Hispanics and immigrants in Colorado and in other battleground states," he tells The Times.
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