Houston immigration lawyer Jacob Monty was one of a handful of Hispanic Republicans to meet with Donald Trump in New York City on Aug. 20 to advise him on how to improve his standing with Latino voters. Three days later, Trump came to Austin for a rally, fundraiser and taping of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News amid talk that Trump was softening his stance on immigration. Monty’s heart soared.
“After listening to the Sean Hannity town hall in Austin, Texas, I was so excited, I thought, `Boy, this is someone who can bring the hardliners to the table and actually get an immigration bill through Congress.’ There was so much hope,” Monty said Thursday on MSNBC.
But those hopes were dashed when Trump delivered his much-anticipated speech on immigration policy in Phoenix on Wednesday night, a ferocious performance that led Monty to renounce his support for the Republican nominee and quit the National Hispanic Advisory Committee for Trump.
“It was very disappointing,” Monty said. “There was nothing pro-business in that speech last night. After I heard it there was no way I could continue to be part of a prop apparatus for Mr. Trump, so I resigned and it’s a sad day because I am no fan of Hillary Clinton.”
Four of the six Texans on the 23-member advisory council indicated Thursday that they were disappointed with Trump’s performance in Phoenix.
Trump scored points with his base, however. Supporters applauded the candidate for sticking to his earlier stances on rejecting any path to legalization or citizenship and aggressively deporting unauthorized immigrants who commit any crime.
No holds barred
Since his visit to Austin, Trump had sent mixed signals about whether he was going to moderate his approach to his signature issue, particularly with regard to the potential mass deportation of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
But the speech he delivered in Arizona was a more detailed rendition of his hard line on immigration, and, in tone, was no-holds-barred in its emotional appeal to anger about illegal immigration. Gone were the kind of grace notes about Mexican-Americans in the United States that were so apparent only hours earlier when he spoke in measured and subdued manner at a joint public appearance with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto after a private meeting in Mexico City.
“He had been somewhat diplomatic and nuanced into the afternoon, and in the evening, he reverted to form,” Tony Garza, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Mexico, said Thursday on MSNBC. Garza, who said he does not believe Trump is suited to be president, said the members of the advisory committee obviously “expected a pivot and got whiplash.”
“There was hope yesterday when he went to Mexico,” Monty said. “He looked like a president. He looked like somebody who was trying to solve the problem. For him to turn and just disregard everything we talked about a week-and-a-half ago and just recite the talking points from FAIR and Numbers USA” — two organizations that favor restrictive immigration policies — “that was disappointing.”
Politico reported that Pastor Ramiro Peña, founder of Waco’s Christ the King Church, had sent a message to Jennifer Korn, the Republican National Committee’s national director for Hispanic initiatives, and other RNC and Trump campaign officials, expressing his deep disappointment with Trump’s speech.
“I am so sorry but I believe Mr. Trump lost the election tonight,” Peña, said in the message. “The ‘National Hispanic Advisory Council’ seems to be simply for optics and I do not have the time or energy for a scam.”
“I will pray over the next couple of days but it is difficult to [imagine] how I can continue to associate with the Trump campaign,” he wrote. “I owe my national audience an explanation.”
Massey Villarreal of Houston, former president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and National Republican Hispanic Assembly, told NBC Latino that he was done with the Trump campaign after Wednesday’s speech, which he described as “awful.”
“As a compassionate conservative, I am disappointed with the immigration speech,” he said. “I am no longer supporting Trump for president, but cannot with any conscience support Hillary.”
Rick Figueroa, a finance executive and Republican activist from Brenham, tweeted, “I am very disappointed in Mr. Trump’s immigration speech,” expressing his regret that Trump had ignored the “wise counsel” being offered by his Hispanic supporters.
“It was a leadership mistake. It was a political mistake. It was a moral mistake,” Figueroa tweeted.
But Figueroa wrote, “With all his flaws, Mr. Trump is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton.”
Figueroa delivered a rip-roaring warmup speech for Trump at the Austin rally, recounting his meeting with Trump as part of the advisory council.
“He said, ‘Tell me your heart,’ and he listened,” Figueroa told the rally at the Travis County Exposition Center.
“He’s a leader. A leader listens. Don’t believe the media. He listens. He cares,” Figueroa said at the rally. “You know what I told him? `What the hell do we have to lose?’”
The two other Texans on the advisory committee — former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla and Eddie Aldrete, senior vice president of IBC Bank in San Antonio — did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Bush sticks with Trump
Political consultant Kasey Pipes, speaking for Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the state’s most prominent Hispanic Republican and chairman of the state GOP’s campaign effort for the November election, said Bush continued to support Trump. Bush was not on the advisory council.
Two Florida pastors who serve on the advisory council — Mario Bramnick and Alberto Delgado — said in separate interviews on MSNBC that they were sticking with Trump.
Bramnick said that if you listened carefully to the speech, deportations would be staged over a long period of time, enabling otherwise law-abiding individuals a chance to get their status straightened out.
“I will stick to my guns,” said Delgado, who said it was important that Hispanics still had Trump’s ear “to make this easier on the families.”
“There was so much anticipation leading up to his speech,” Monty said. “He appeared to be ready to announce a pro-business, compassionate solution to the immigration problem and boy, we listened intently and we were hoping for some glimmer of the Donald Trump we met with a week-and-a-half ago, but it never came.”
Asked to explain what happened, Monty speculated that either “he listens to the last person who talks to him,” or he isn’t really interested in being elected president and is more focused on developing a post-election media empire appealing to his “nativist” supporters.
“He’s a populist propaganda con artist,” Monty said.