Tom Lucero, the man in charge of running Hispanic outreach for Donald Trump’s campaign in Colorado, has a message for Latino voters he’s trying to woo: Trump probably isn’t really going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, though he thinks it’s doable and hopes it happens.
That assertion came during a wide-ranging conversation Lucero had with The Colorado Independent about how he plans to handle outreach to Hispanic voters in a swing state with a large Latino population. Latinos are among the groups the Republican presidential nominee has managed to alienate during his campaign, perhaps beginning with his June speech in which he said Mexico was not sending “its best people” across the border.
“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs,” Trump said. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Later, Trump said a U.S. District Court judge presiding over civil lawsuits against Trump University couldn’t do his job impartially because that judge was of Mexican heritage.
But Lucero counters by pointing out that Hispanics are not a monolithic group, and most average voters don’t get caught up in the echo chamber of media coverage.
He frames the argument for Trump largely around business. Latinos in Colorado are hard-working and business-oriented and would do better under a Republican administration than they would under Democrat Hillary Clinton if she is elected, he says.
Republicans in general have had a problem attracting Hispanic voters, he says, and as long as Trump’s team in Colorado can communicate a message of getting government out of the way, he’s confident it can bring Latinos on board.
A longtime player in Republican politics, Lucero owned restaurants and software companies, ran for state and national office, and sat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents before taking on his latest role with the Trump campaign.
Asked if being tasked with doing Latino outreach for a candidate like Trump is the hardest job he’s had yet, he said no.
Below are excerpts from a Monday conversation with Lucero, edited for clarity, on his first day of his new job.
OK, so what’s your pitch to Hispanic voters here to get on board with Trump?
It’s that idea that we share those similar values. It’s about hard work, put your nose to the grindstone and good things are going to happen. There’s no guarantee, but you just keep working and grinding away. And if you look at the Hispanic culture, you look at that and almost all of us universally have that same message in our families— that we’re here for a reason and that is to take advantage of the opportunities that this country has to offer.
You didn’t use Donald Trump’s name once in that entire answer.
Well, you asked what the campaign pitch is to individuals and that is exactly it. It has gotten more and more difficult as a business owner and as an entrepreneur in this country and the only one of the candidates out there who is offering the opportunity to small business owners to be successful is Donald Trump. In fact if you caught the economic plan today, it is all about freeing regulation and reducing tax rates. And if you talk to individuals in business right now those are the two biggest issues. And Donald Trump is the only one who’s talking about making that happen.
Hispanics could make up 18 percent of the vote this year, maybe more than 20 percent. Colorado Republican pollster David Flaherty told The New York Times this week that Trump is “a walking get-out-the-vote billboard” for Hispanics who oppose him here. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m going to answer it this way, again, we’re back to the economy. Hispanics have a proud tradition of being wildly entrepreneurial and focused on business whether they’re working in business or they’re entrepreneurs and the only individual that is speaking to getting the economy back on track in the state of Colorado is Donald Trump.
It was an easy decision for me as a businessman, as an entrepreneur, as a Republican, to get behind Donald Trump, and when the campaign reached out to me and asked, ‘Hey, are you going to be with Trump?’ Absolutely. ‘Do you want to help us in coalition building?’ Absolutely.
Is it hard to convince Hispanics in Colorado to get behind Donald Trump given some of the things he’s said?
We have had an issue in the Republican Party plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mitt Romney, it doesn’t matter if it’s John McCain, it doesn’t matter if it’s Donald Trump. The only guy in the last couple of decades who has been able to cross over and — I wouldn’t call it significant— but make inroads in the Hispanic community with earning their vote and their support has been George W. Bush. And that’s it.
So, it’s not unique to Donald Trump. The reality is Republicans have had a problem. If you look at the team we’ve got here in Colorado … we’re hoping to continue that message of economic prosperity and getting the government out of your life. And if we can do that and effectively communicate it, hopefully we’ll make the exact same inroads that W. did a few election cycles ago.
But this is Donald Trump. He wants to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. He disparaged a federal judge of Mexican heritage. Other things he’s said could be perceived as hostile to Hispanics. How do you turn that around and say ‘You should vote for him.’
We all get caught up in this echo chamber politically. Having spent just about 12 or 13 weeks going door to door and actually out there talking to Republican primary voters, and voters in general, a lot of us get focused on what’s in the headline, what got said.
Hispanic voters are not a monolithic voting bloc. There are a lot of inroads to be made with Hispanics. And individuals I have spoken to, a lot of them agree that we need to get immigration in check. [They say] “I’m getting hammered by health care costs, can somebody address that, can somebody address taxes, can somebody address the regulatory environment, and can we take care of what’s going on here in America first.” And the only guy who’s talking about that is Trump. A lot of people are paying attention to these issues and are glad that somebody is out there willing to address these issues.
Republicans need to make inroads with Hispanics to begin with, but the reality of it is there are a lot of Hispanics out there just like myself who say “We need some help.”
What specifics do you give Latino voters about Trump’s position on healthcare and immigration?
My answer on healthcare is quite simple: Assuming we hold onto the U.S. Senate and the House, and given the fact that Trump has said he is going to work with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, they are going to repeal Obamacare and put into place more free-market solutions to help small business owners deal with their spiraling and out-of-control healthcare costs.
That one is the easy one between the two.
Are they going to get a wall built and is Mexico going to pay for it? Likely not, but the reality of it is that Trump has talked about securing the border by any means necessary and let’s get into place a system where we can guarantee who is coming into the country, let’s get control of our visa programs so that individual Americans have an opportunity to compete for jobs before individuals coming in from other countries. And if we can get control of the visa program and if we can get control of our borders, not only from an economic standpoint but from a security standpoint, as well, we’re going to be much better off as a country.
Just to clarify, a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign is that he’s going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it. You dispute that?
I don’t dispute that, I said the likelihood of it being done is— it’s not very realistic. Would I like to see it happen and do I think it is possible? Absolutely. But at least in the first two years when Republicans control the House, the Senate and White House, let’s get the border as secure as we can— I think that’s exactly what he’s saying and let’s get our immigration policy under control.