Donald Trump may not have been the first choice of many conservative Latinos who turned out for the Republican convention, but by this week plenty found a way to come around to him. That was the story I found as I wove through the aisles of the convention floor this week in Cleveland. Of course, it’s a self-selecting group. These are not the conservatives who felt scorned and disgusted by their party’s primary season, choosing instead to nurse their frustrations at home. These are the conservatives who schlepped themselves out to muggy Ohio for the week of speeches and revelry. These are the Latinos who have found a way to overlook Trump’s talk about immigrants in favor of his assurances of safety and security.
One of them, Marco Rodriguez, a delegate from San Antonio, Texas, is a retired Marine Corps veteran who did seven tours of Iraq. We spoke Thursday night, while notorious anti-immigration hardliner Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio addressed the crowd. To Rodriguez, concerns about national security and potential terrorists sneaking in through the US-Mexico border superseded the discomfort of hearing Trump’s common depiction of immigrants as criminals, drug-dealers and murderers. “The way I look at it, Hillary and Obama will say nice things but give you policies that actually hurt,” Rodriguez, 49, said.
“Trump has said a couple not-so-nice things, but I’m convinced, because I understand economics and national security, that we’re actually going to fare one hundred times better under him than under Hillary.” Rodriguez is Mexican-American, and his parents and one of his five siblings were all born in Mexico. Save for one sister he’s still hoping to convince, his entire family plans to vote for Trump in November.
But in other circumstances, Rodriguez still prefers Ted Cruz, who was his original pick during the primaries. Even amid the pain of the primary season and uproar this week, he’d never consider backing anyone but his party’s nominee, he made clear. “Since before I became an adult, my whole family and I realized we couldn’t in good conscience be Democrats.” He identified more closely with the “traditional family values,” economic policy and strong military support of Republicans.
Bertica Cabrera Morris, a delegate from Orlando, Florida, widened her eyes in surprise when I asked her to respond to the widely understood idea that Trump is not popular with Latinos.
“Donald Trump is probably going to be the candidate to get the most Hispanic support of any candidate in my lifetime,” Cabrera Morris, who is Cuban-American, said. “And the reason is he’s all about jobs, and security, and he’s about family. He’s for the same principles as the Hispanic community.” Cabrera Morris wasn’t always a Trump supporter either. Early in the primary season she backed Marco Rubio, but once Rubio dropped out, she said, backing Trump was an easy pivot. “I’m afraid,” she said. “We live in Orlando and we had 49 killings three blocks away from my office. It was horrible.”
“I believe [Trump] will scare people away from doing those types of things,” Cabrera Morris said. As the mom of five kids, she cares most about national security and jobs and has been a devoted Republican for decades. “When I lived in California I saw a guy speak and I said, ‘Whatever he is, that’s what I’m going to be.’ And his name was Ronald Reagan.”