Will GOP's Efforts To Reach Out To Hispanics Survive These Primaries? : It's All Politics Strong statements from Republican front-runner Donald Trump — and the responses they've inspired from other candidates — threaten to undermine Republican attempts to win more minority votes in 2016.
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Will GOP's Efforts To Reach Out To Hispanics Survive These Primaries?

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Will GOP's Efforts To Reach Out To Hispanics Survive These Primaries?

Will GOP's Efforts To Reach Out To Hispanics Survive These Primaries?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Immigration is at the center of the 2016 Republican presidential race. This week, Donald Trump released a position paper that includes a call to deport those people who are living in the country illegally and a challenge to the constitutionality of birthright citizenship. The nature of the debate threatens to undermine an effort by the Republican Party to try to reach out to Hispanic voters in this election. NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Heated rhetoric on immigration is nothing new for Republicans running for president. Back in 2007, Congressman Tom Tancredo pinned his entire candidacy on the topic. He made the connection between illegal immigrants and terrorists blowing up shopping malls in this ad.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who come to kill.

GONYEA: Bold words appeared on the screen, Tancredo - before it's too late. His candidacy went nowhere, but John McCain, who won the nomination in '08, felt compelled to emphatically back away from his earlier support for bipartisan immigration reform legislation in Congress. It was again a big topic for Republicans in 2012. One candidate called for an alligator-filled moat on the border. And the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, triggered controversy with this.

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MITT ROMNEY: Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide that they can do better by going home because they can't find work here.

GONYEA: That phrase, self-deportation, would be used against Romney during the general election. He won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. The GOP will need to do far better than that if it hopes to take back the White House. The 2012 result prompted some serious self-evaluation by the party. RNC chairman Reince Priebus commissioned a study, an autopsy, he once called it.

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REINCE PRIEBUS: By the year 2050, we'll be a majority-minority country. The RNC cannot and will not write off any demographic, community or region of this country.

GONYEA: That was in 2013. Since then, the GOP has increased its outreach in Hispanic communities. But those efforts are endangered by this year's primary campaign. First, there was Donald Trump's declaration that Mexico sends rapists and criminals across the border. Then on Monday, he released his first major policy paper. It includes a call to eliminate birthright citizenship. That's protected under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and says if you're born in the U.S., you're automatically an American citizen. At his first town hall in New Hampshire a few days ago, Trump followed up with this.

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DONALD TRUMP: But you look at Chicago. You look at Baltimore. You look at Ferguson. You look at a lot of these places. A lot of these gangs, and the most vicious, are illegals. They're out of here. First day, I will send them people - we - those guys are out of here.

GONYEA: Other Republicans echoed that kind of rhetoric. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, at first, agreed with Trump on repealing birthright citizenship, but later in the week said he wasn't for or against it. Jeb Bush called Trump's language vitriolic. He opposes changing the Constitution, but appearing on the syndicated radio show hosted by conservative Bill Bennett, Bush did say this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "BILL BENNETT'S MORNING IN AMERICA")

JEB BUSH: There ought to be greater enforcement. That's a legitimate, you know, side of this - greater enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, anchor babies, as they're described, coming into the country.

GONYEA: Trump and Bush both used the term anchor babies to describe children born in the U.S. to women here illegally. To Hispanics, that's a derogatory term. Meanwhile, other candidates have been making their own get-tough statements on immigration. Listen to Ben Carson, who was on the Arizona border this week speaking to the CBS affiliate in Phoenix.

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BEN CARSON: You look at some of these caves and things that are out there. One drone strike (imitating explosion), they're gone. And they're easy to find. I'm not saying that I would. I'm saying I would use all the possibilities that we have.

GONYEA: All of these comments troubled Daniel Garza of the Libre Initiative, a conservative Hispanic group that promotes free-market policies.

DANIEL GARZA: At the end of the day, fundamentally, everybody asks themselves, will my life be better if I vote for this person or that person? And a person's political narrative has a lot to do with that. And so, as Latinos, you know, we are listening.

GONYEA: And it shows how a GOP effort to improve its standing with Hispanic voters can run into a wall when it's campaign time. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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