On the final night of the GOP convention in Cleveland, I found myself next to the largely white, largely over-50 crowd of delegates from West Virginia on the red carpet of Quicken Loans Arena. Throughout Donald Trump’s 75-minute acceptance speech, they shouted in unison: “Build that wall,” “Help is on the way,” and “Lock her up!”
Trump fans were enraptured by his dystopian vision of a nation in “chaos,” beset by enemies from without and from within. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness,” he said. Shoulder-to-shoulder with delegates on the floor, I was left with zero doubt Trump was expertly hitting his mark: The mood was electric and full of rage.
But the most interesting experience of my week in Cleveland was an interview I did with a young member of the Texas delegation—someone who might have been placed, had things gone differently, to inherit a more diverse and forward-looking version of the Republican Party than the one seen by the nation on Thursday night. He’s now an outlier.
Houston-native Jorge Villarreal is transferring to Texas A&M from community college next year to study agriculture economics and pursue a career in political consulting. The 19-year-old Mexican American is a Republican, and he’s passionate about his politics. But he despairs about the future of his party, and the Trumpism—protectionism, nativism, racism—now cemented at the top of the ticket.
In its 2013 election “autopsy” report, the Republican National Committee wrote that in order to win future elections, the party should urgently change how it engaged with Latinos if it hoped “to welcome in new members of our party”:
If we believe our policies are the best ones to improve the lives of the American people, all the American people, our candidates and office holders need to do a better job talking in normal, people-oriented terms and we need to go to communities where Republicans do not normally go to listen and make our case. We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans and demonstrate that we care about them, too.
But this post-Romney push by the party to appeal to a broader demographic of voters—rather than simply to white Americans—appears to have run aground in Trump’s GOP. Polling indicates a majority of young Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of the billionaire real estate developer. Among the broader Hispanic community, Trump has an unfavorability rating of 77 percent, according to a Gallup poll conducted in March.
I originally included portions of my video interview with Villarreal in my story about how voters reacted to Sen. Ted Cruz’s refusal to endorse Trump. But I wanted to share the full interview, because it provides such a powerful counterpoint to what I saw in the convention hall on Thursday—and a possible future for the Republican Party.
“[Trump’s] racist comments makes me feel that I can’t vote for him at all, because not only would I be making a bad decision morally for me, I would be further damaging the party in the long term,” Villarreal told me. He recounted conversations with his parents, who he said had immigrated to the United States illegally before being granted amnesty during Ronald Reagan’s presidency: “They say, ‘Jorge, you need to fix your party. Trump’s making it go haywire.'”
Watch the full interview above.