Billionaire Donald Trump has soared in opinion polls for the Republican presidential primary, but inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric could cost him the crucial Latino vote in the 2016 White House race.
“What Trump is doing is political suicide,” says Patricio Zamorano, executive director of the consulting firm Infoamericas.info.
Since launching his campaign in June, “The Donald” has catapulted to the top of the Republican polls, ahead of 16 other candidates, and at 28 per cent this week he is streaking away from his nearest rival by 16 points.
Immigration has dominated the agenda since then, with Trump, 69, promising to build a wall to keep Mexicans – who he has attacked as drug traffickers and rapists – from entering the US illegally.
He has also promised to deport the more than 11 million people living in the US illegally and to eliminate their US-born children’s right to nationality, which the outspoken Trump sees as a magnet for undocumented immigrants.
With his blunt speaking style and refusal to bow to mainstream political correctness, Trump – whom some Republicans slam as not conservative enough – actually has won a lot of support from the party’s most conservative, who are also the most active in primary voting.
But at the same time, the mega-rich developer has drawn anger and scorn from Hispanics, the fastest-growing US minority group, numbering 54 million, and 10 per cent of voters.
Unsurprisingly, Trump is the least popular Republican candidate among Hispanics, a Gallup poll released this week found.
“This is personal,” said Jorge Ramos, a Mexican immigrant and star news anchor on the top US Spanish language network, Univision.
Trump kicked him out of a news conference in Iowa this week, further enraging Ramos fans.
Trump’s meteoric primary surge has set off alarms among Republican leaders who had been planning on delivering a strategy to woo Hispanics.
After their candidate Mitt Romney proposed “self-deportation,” he helped hand a win to Barack Obama in 2012.
In 2016, to win the White House, Republicans will have to draw 47 per cent of the total Latino vote – double what Romney won and more than the 44 per cent that helped George W Bush win in 2004, according to pollsters Latino Decisions.
“The Latino vote is essential in getting the next president elected,” Zamorano said.