Democratic Latino leaders partially blame U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman for laying the ideological base for Donald Trump’s “racist” platform.
Coffman, who has endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio for president, has remained silent on whether, in a general election, he would support Trump, the GOP frontrunner, or Trump’s anti-immigrant platform, which has been embraced by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.
Democrats and liberal groups point out Coffman’s silence is particularly deafening in a moment when Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney, have spoken against Trump and risk exploding the party trying to dethrone its frontrunner during what may be a contested national GOP convention in Cleveland.
State Sen. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat who’s trying to unseat Coffman in November, has described the current slate of GOP presidential candidates as “nut jobs” on “a slow and steady, serious march towards fascism.”
Leading that march, as Carroll sees it, is Donald Trump, who has been blasted by leaders of both parties for stumbling on whether to disavow the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, including Storm Front, which are championing his campaign and seeing a website traffic spike because of their endorsement of him.
In a fundraising letter, Carroll wrote, “Trump’s campaign has gone from absurd, to offensive, to downright scary in just a few short months. And while many leaders on both sides of the aisle have taken a stance on Trump’s candidacy, our opponent, Rep. Mike Coffman, continues to tiptoe around the issue.”
In Coffman’s Congressional District 6, the representative has to balance appealing to a growing Latino population and conservative white voters who not so long ago elected Republican anti-immigrant crusader Tom Tancredo.
Republicans argue that forcing Coffman to take a stand on Trump, when the Congressman already supports Rubio, is an absurd political maneuver.
Colorado GOP chair Steve House told The Colorado Independent in a Thursday email, “What Morgan Carroll should really answer is whether she will support Hillary Clinton in the event the FBI investigation yields an indictment. Sen. Sanders’s blowout win on Tuesday underscores how deep the distrust of Hillary Clinton runs in Colorado, and her email scandal will be a drag on Carroll’s candidacy.”
Both House’s and Carroll’s attempts to use the drama of the presidential race as ammo in congressional campaigns is politics-as-expected in an election year.
House, like many other Republicans, lauds Coffman as a hard working lawmaker who has built ties with the Latino and Asian communities in his district. Coffman has gone so far as to learn Spanish, dutifully studying Rosetta Stone and debating against his former Democratic opponent Andrew Romanoff in Spanish.
“There’s a narrative out there about Republicans being not just anti-illegal immigrant, but anti-immigrant. It was very important to me to break the narrative,” Coffman told the Wall Street Journal in June.
Breaking the narrative is increasingly important as Coffman tries to maintain his seat. The story notes he started learning Spanish in 2013, after his district was redrawn to include 20 percent Latinos.
“Congressman Coffman has an outstanding record working with the immigrant community in his district,” House said. “Not only did he learn Spanish expressly to communicate better with his constituents, he is deeply supportive of proposals popular in the Latino community like the Military Dreamers Act.”
Coffman has supported bills that would give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship through military service.
Speaking Spanish doesn’t change anti-immigrant policies Coffman has supported, say community leaders like state Rep. Joe Salazar, who describes the Congressman as “xenophobic” and “racist.”
Earlier this year, Coffman came under scrutiny after The Colorado Independent broke a story that he attended the conference of ACT for America, an organization dubbed “the nation’s leading anti-Muslim hate group” by the Council on American-Muslim Relations.
“With regard to why he spoke to this group, the Congressman speaks with literally hundreds of groups every year, and very rarely agrees with every aspect of their agenda. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a dialogue,” his spokesperson Cinamon Watson wrote to The Colorado Independent.
Direct dialogue with The Colorado Independent is not on Coffman’s agenda. His office is not responding to emails and calls about this story. His former communications director Tyler Sandberg said, “I have nothing to talk to you about,” and hung up before this reporter could ask a question.
Coffman, whose background is in the military, is known for running a tight communications operation that stays on script and refuses to answer questions that don’t directly further his campaign’s cause. Refusing to answer journalists’ tough questions has buffered him from some criticism but opened him up to accusations of a lack of transparency, the kind Democrats are now capitalizing on.
One question The Independent would have asked: Did Coffman help create “the nativist, xenophobic, and racist campaign of Donald Trump,” as state Rep. Joe Salazar said in a statement released by the Carroll campaign.
Without a response from Coffman’s office, Salazar’s remarks are left to stand alone: “The fact that we have a Congressman who pals around with organizations described as hate groups and refuses to speak out against Trump’s dangerous rhetoric is really sad, and quite frankly, scary.”
At the heart of immigrant rights advocates’ criticism of Trump is that he has proposed a mass deportation of all undocumented people including children, the construction of a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country.
“It’s both embarrassing and disturbing that leading Republicans are seriously discussing rounding up and deporting millions of families, including US citizen children, and building a wall between Mexico and the United States,” said state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri in a statement from the Carroll campaign. “But let’s face reality – Donald Trump’s candidacy was not created in a vacuum. It’s the hateful rhetoric of people like Congressman Coffman – who said President Obama wasn’t an American, advocated for building a fence, said the DREAM Act would be a nightmare, and urged Spanish speakers to ‘get a dictionary’ – that is to blame for Trump.”
Colorado Republican Party’s House said of these attacks on Coffman, “These are the same false tired attacks partisan Democrats peddle nearly every cycle against Rep. Coffman.”
If Coffman’s office finally responds to multiple messages about these accusations and attacks from Latino leaders and Democrats, this story will be updated.