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Andres Oppenheimer: Trump’s Hispanic delusion

An anti-Trump supporter holds a Donald Trump pinata as Hispanic activists and community leaders speak at an anti-Trump rally outside the Cathedral Shrine of Guadalupe in Dallas Sept. 14, 2015.
An anti-Trump supporter holds a Donald Trump pinata as Hispanic activists and community leaders speak at an anti-Trump rally outside the Cathedral Shrine of Guadalupe in Dallas Sept. 14, 2015. TNS File

Republican front-runner Donald Trump laughs off claims that he is a pathological liar, but his assertion that Hispanics love him is about as loco as it gets.

While most politicians stretch the truth, Trump has come under increased criticism in recent days for saying things that have no connection to reality.

A fact-checking study of Trump’s speeches over the course of one week by the influential magazine and website Politico found that Trump had made one inaccurate statement every five minutes on average – the kind of falsehoods that no serious news organization would publish as a fact.

“Donald Trump is the most unpopular general-election candidate in modern American history among Latino voters,” says Frank Sharry, lead of America’s Voice, a pro-immigration think tank in Washington, D.C.

For instance, Trump constantly claims that the United States has a $500 billion-a-year trade deficit with China, and that undocumented Mexican immigrants are flooding the United States. In fact, U.S. census figures show that the U.S. trade deficit with China is much smaller, and that immigration from Mexico has fallen over the past six years.

PolitiFact, a fact-checking news outlet, concluded recently that 76 percent of Trump’s statements are mostly or totally false. Last week, Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders called Trump “a pathological liar,” adding that it is “very difficult dealing with some guy who lies all the time.”

But one of the most bizarre of all of Trump’s claims is his claim that “the Hispanics love me,” despite his statement that most Mexican immigrants are bad people, his calls for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and his campaign to build a wall along the border.

In fact, a new Gallup poll shows that only 12 percent of U.S. Hispanics have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 77 percent have an unfavorable view of him. By comparison, 59 percent of Hispanics have a favorable view of Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Exit polls in Florida’s Republican primary, which Trump won by a landslide, show that Trump won across the state largely thanks to white Anglo-Saxon voters. But Trump lost in heavily Hispanic Miami, where the winner was Sen. Marco Rubio.

Hispanics made up only 17 percent of Florida’s Republican voters in Tuesday’s primaries. Of that statewide percentage, 52 percent of the vote went for Rubio and only 27 percent for Trump, exit polls show.

Trump’s unpopularity will pose a serious problem for the Republicans if Trump is picked as the party’s candidate for the November elections, considering that most Latinos vote Democratic. “Remember, we are talking about a general election where Republicans will need 42 to 47 percent of the Latino vote to win,” Sharry of America’s Voice said.

Democratic pollster Fernan Amandi, of the Bendixen & Amandi polling firm, told me that Trump’s poor showing among Florida Hispanics confirmed that Trump has very little support among Latinos.

“Trump may love Hispanics, but Hispanics don’t love Trump,” Amandi said. “The Republican Party continues to have a problem with Hispanics, and that problem’s name is Donald Trump.”

My opinion: Judging from national polls and Florida primary exit polls, Trump’s claim that “the Hispanics love me” is a prime example of his habit to distort the facts and repeat falsehoods. When a Gallup poll shows that 77 percent of Latinos nationwide have an unfavorable view of you, it takes some nerve to claim the opposite.

But what worries me the most is that Trump may know very well that Hispanics dislike him, and that he may have decided to write off the Latino vote. He may have made the decision to focus on trying to draw large numbers of anti-immigration white voters who have not voted in past elections, which could lead him to step up his inflammatory, xenophobic rhetoric.

If he becomes the Republican nominee, Trump may have to decide whether to mend fences with Latinos or to focus on drawing angry, disaffected new Anglo voters by raising his rhetoric against Mexicans and Hispanics in general. Given his dismal support among Latinos, he may do the latter.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. Email: aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com.

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