For many Latino Republicans in Connecticut, many of whom are evangelical, Donald Trump’s violent rhetoric is of great concern, even deplorable. However, while they are quick to criticize him, and perhaps surprisingly to some, many grudgingly admit that if the billionaire becomes the party’s presidential nominee, which became more likely with his primary victories Tuesday in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois, they will support him.
The Latino Republicans, especially the evangelicals, have been forced to walk a tightrope on the question of whether Trump is accountable for his outbursts and how protestors have been handled at his rallies. They say his choice of words could be better, but they are still not convinced he should not get their support, despite the fact that the Republican front-runner has vilified groups such as Hispanics and Muslims, mocking women and telling his audience that protesters should be punched or even carried out on stretchers.
For Carmelo Rodriguez, a New Britain Republican leader and a Pentecostal minister, reconciling Trump’s outbursts involves weighing this problem against the rest of his agenda.
“I don’t like a lot about him like how he expresses himself, but there are many things on his agenda I agree with, such as better care for veterans, immigration and his business policy,” said the chairman of the New Britain Latino Coalition. He adds, “Donald Trump is just being Donald Trump.”
Similarly, Isaiah Diaz, a Republican leader in Waterbury and an evangelical, says Trump needs to change his message. But referring to the increasing criticism of how Trump handles protestors at his rallies, Diaz adds, “You can’t yell fire in a theater.”
“If it’s Trump’s fault people are acting like that, what does that do with justifying their behavior?” said Diaz, an attorney who was rooting for Sen. Marco Rubio to get the Republican nomination. This quest ended Tuesday night with the Florida senator dropping out of the race after his devastating loss in his home state’s primary.
Meriden resident, Pablo Soto, who is a founder of the Latino National Republican Coalition of Connecticut and a member of the Republican State Central Committee, expresses what he calls an analytical approach to the question of whether Trump’s words are divisive and encourage violence. “The real question is not whether Trump’s ‘tough attitude,’ is inciting violence, but who are the ones that are actually inciting violence at his rallies?” asks Soto, who said he is not yet backing any specific candidate.
Ruben Rodriguez, chairman of LNRC of Connecticut and a Republican leader in Waterbury, avoided directly linking Trump’s speeches to the punches thrown by some of his backers at campaign events or increasing racial tensions in the country.
However, Rodriguez, who like Diaz had supported Rubio, states that “words matter” and that candidates should “appeal to people’s reasoning,” which “requires much more skill and a greater sense of responsibility.”
Rodriguez adds, “Fighting words – offensive and derisive name calling, ad hominem attacks, religion mocking, ridicule, impugning one’s character, threatening physical force in response to interpersonal challenges – reflect a fundamental disrespect for others and a lack of impulse control which has no place if sincerely trying to find solutions to our problems. Fighting words lack intellectual substance, foster instability, and will only make America hate again.
Diaz stressed that Trump is not a racist, and while the candidate needs to control what he says better, he senses that he can absolutely “tone it down,” which he demonstrated by cancelling last week’s Chicago rally when there was a threat of violent confrontations with protesters.
Many of the Latino Republicans also express a passion for Trump’s right to speak even if one does not agree with the message, and among evangelical Republicans, its relation to freedom of religion.
“If you are going to show up at rallies using intimidation and violence so the Trump people can’t speak because you don’t like that (message), are you going to do that to Christians because you don’t like that, to Muslims because you don’t ask that?” asks Diaz, who describes himself as “a big freedom of speech guy.”
The free speech message also resonates with Emanuela Palmares, a Danbury Republican who is running for state representative in the 110th district, who also finds the violence “deplorable.”
“Each of us has a First Amendment right to speak our mind,” Palmares said. “While I don’t agree with Trump, he has a right to say it.”
Palmares, says she has not made up her mind on a candidate, but admires Governor John Kasich of Ohio, whose campaign gained at least a respite with his victory in his home state over Trump and Ted Cruz.
The best that Cruz, an evangelical, could do Tuesday was give Trump a close race in Missouri.
At this point, some Latin Republicans may hold out hope that Cruz will be able to challenge Trump, but they also have begun to look at the likelihood of a Trump vs. Clinton race this fall.
Diaz has said that he cannot vote in “good conscience” for Clinton,” and that while Trump may not behave, he will be his No. 1 choice to prevent the country from continuing to “move to the left.”
Carmelo Rodriquez said, if it boils down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, “I definitely will vote Republican.” The New Britain Pentecostal minister added, “Then I have to start praying a lot.”