LAS VEGAS — Irma Aguirre sat defiantly in her elegant, upscale Mexican restaurant—the oldest one in Sin City—and began defending the man many Latinos believe is indefensible.
“I get his personality and style. I have a deep admiration for someone who has been able to accomplish so much in his lifetime,” she told The Daily Beast. “Being in business isn’t easy. The fact that he has been able to survive in business for decades—he has created brands that are top of the line.”
Aguirre is, of course, talking about Donald Trump. She is one of a few dozen Latino small business owners in Las Vegas who support him—causing an uproar among pro-immigration activists who called on customers to boycott her after she held a roundtable with the GOP nominee earlier this month. But the negative reaction only seemed to strengthen her support for the man.
Trump’s Latino supporters, like Aguirre, are a minority within a minority, many of whom feel they are not properly represented by pro-immigration activism, which much of the Hispanic community supports.
The Donald has deeply alienated Hispanic voters with controversial and racist comments that disparage their community—“we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” Trump said at the presidential debate Wednesday night. Any broad outreach efforts have been sparse—if not non-existent—often grouping them in with African American voters in speeches as if they are one large minority group.
“I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos that she can do for ten lifetimes,” Trump boasted in his closing statement at the debate Wednesday night. “All she’s done is talk to the African-Americans and to the Latinos, but they get the vote and then they come back, they say ‘we’ll see you in four years.’”
But in Nevada, he has placed a special emphasis on the group, which make up more than a quarter of the population in the key swing state. During a meeting with pro-Trump Hispanic small business leaders earlier this month at Aguirre’s restaurant, he returned repeatedly to the notion that he would help impoverished Latinos.
“I’m also going to fight to help millions of Latinos trapped in poverty” by fixing “inner cities,” Trump said.
After the state’s caucuses in February, Trump boasted that entrance polls showed that 45 percent of Republican Latinos voted for him. But they represented a very small subset: most Latinos aren’t registered as Republicans, and they only made up 8 percent of the GOP electorate in Nevada.
"People don’t know how well we’re doing with the Hispanics, the Latinos. We’re doing really well,” he bragged after a private meeting with two dozen Latino supporters in Las Vegas two months ago.
Polls have been mixed on whether Trump’s outreach to Latinos in Nevada has worked beyond the primaries: a CNN/ORC poll released this week shows that 33 percent of registered Hispanic voters in the state support Trump, compared to 54 percent for Clinton—meaning that she is underperforming compared to President Obama’s previous elections there. But Latino Decisions, which specializes on polling this community and has worked for Clinton campaign on the Hispanic community, has polled Trump’s support at closer to 17 percent.
Hispanic voters are less pro-Trump than they were anti-Clinton. When The Daily Beast asked Latino Trump supporters in Nevada why they’re supporting a politician who has called Mexicans “rapists” and questioned whether a judge with Mexican heritage could fairly oversee his case—they rarely responded with a rousing, pro-Trump response. What you’ll more likely receive is a long, passionate speech about the evils of Hillary Clinton.
“The people who are voting for Trump are people who strongly identify as Republican, and they would vote for Donald Trump or Donald Duck, or they’ve built up antipathy to Hillary clinton over the many years she has been in public office,” said Sylvia Manzano of Latino Decisions.
“It’s the lesser of two evils,” agreed Tom Sanchez, a vocal pro-Trump protester at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Hillary and the Democrats have become globalists. They believe in a one world order that the very wealthy determine the rest for the lesser.”
Trump’s Hispanic supporters weren’t willing to defend his comments on Judge Gonzalo Curiel or his campaign-opening missive against Mexicans, but they were willing to overlook them.
“There are some things that he should bite his tongue on. At the same time, nobody’s perfect. We’re getting to a day and age where everybody constantly wants their safe space. They feel entitled,” said Chris, a Chilean immigrant who was waving a large ‘Trump Train’ sign at the presidential debates in Las Vegas.
“I don’t give a shit about people’s feelings. We’re voting on people’s feelings. I want to vote about policy,” Sanchez added.
Jesus Marquez, another pro-Trump small business owner in Las Vegas, said that he was supporting Trump mainly because he believed the businessman could improve the economy better than Clinton ever could.
“There’s still a lot of poverty in our community, the schools in our community are not the best, crime is high—and look at the overall growth of the economy… even though we’re supposedly in a recovery, the country isn’t feeling it, and the Latino community isn’t feeling it,” Marquez told The Daily Beast. “I feel that Hillary Clinton is going to be a continuation of eight years of Obama.”
Marquez, who owns an air conditioning company and is also a political strategist focused on helping the GOP, argues that “here in Nevada, Latinos have been hurting more”—that industries that have typically hired many members of the Latino community, such as the hotel and construction industries, have not recovered quickly during the Obama administration.
Back in 2005 the Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked Nevada near the top of the country in terms of average income, at 11th. A decade later, in 2015, Nevada is now ranked 37th. While the economic growth of the country as a whole has been 3.8 percent over that time period, Nevada has lagged behind at 2.6 percent.
"People are concerned about the economy. That for me is why I’m supporting him. I don’t believe that any career politician is going to be able to do what it takes in terms of the economy,” Aguirre said.
For this reason, Marquez expects that Trump’s support from Nevada Hispanic voters will be greater than in the rest of the country—even though he admits the businessman’s political organization is relatively weak in the state—and even though Clinton will still win the community’s support handily.
“We need change. Hispanics have been taken for granted from the Democratic party for so long,” he said.