By Jason Lange and Elizabeth Culliford
WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has run more than 3,000 Facebook ads in English asking for support to curb illegal immigration in the past six months, often asking people to sign online petitions to “deport illegals.”
But Republican Trump’s more than 1,200 Facebook ads in Spanish during the same period hardly mention his signature campaign promise to be tough on immigration.
Instead, they warn that Democrats want Venezuela-style socialism and advertise “Latinos for Trump” merchandise, according to a Reuters review of more than 69,000 of Trump’s Facebook ads since May. Venezuela is mired in an economic crisis and the Trump administration is using sanctions to try to force socialist President Nicolas Maduro from power.
“Do you approve of socialism? Yes or no?” reads the Spanish-language text of several ads. Others tout a strong U.S. economy or bash prominent leftist Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
The contrast suggests a high-stakes balancing act for Trump ahead of the November 2020 election as he tries to fire up his white Republican base, which applauds his tough stance on immigration, while also courting Latino voters, who could be the largest minority voting bloc next year.
Trump, despite his divisive rhetoric calling Mexicans “murderers” and “rapists,” won nearly a third of the Latino vote in the 2016 election. And 29% of Latinos approve of Trump’s performance in office, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted between July and September, though that is lower than 39% approval among all Americans.
Building on that support will be key to win increasingly diverse states, including Arizona and Florida.
But Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to support Trump’s immigration policies, such as his now-abandoned practice of separating families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Among Latinos who consider immigration the most pressing political issue – above healthcare and the economy – about four in 10 support conservative policies such as tightening border security, compared to eight in 10 among non-Hispanic whites, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Given the split nature of the issue, leaving immigration out of Spanish-language ads could be wise for Trump, said Mike Madrid, a Republican political strategist in Sacramento, California.
But for 28-year-old IT worker Jeremiah Espinoza in Houston, who dislikes Trump’s immigration stance, the ads – whether in English or Spanish – are toxic anyway.
Espinoza blocked an English-language “Latinos for Trump” ad when it appeared on his Facebook feed a few days after a gunman killed 22 people, most of them Hispanic, in El Paso, Texas in August.
“I think it is pretty cruel in general,” Espinoza said of Trump’s immigration policy, particularly separating families.
Spanish is widely spoken among America’s roughly 60 million Hispanics. Spanish speakers make up about 10% of the U.S. electorate, with large numbers in battleground states such as Arizona and Florida.
Trump, already running the largest digital advertising operation in the 2020 campaign, has run more ads in Spanish than all of the 18 Democratic presidential contenders combined, according to the Reuters analysis of Facebook ad data, which was gathered by computer scientists at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. https://tmsnrt.rs/34agfQz
Democrats, led by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, are also running ads in Spanish. But unlike Trump, their messages mirror English-language ads, often lauding the contributions of immigrants and calling out Trump’s immigration policies as divisive or racist.
Latinos historically skew Democratic in presidential elections but some Latinos believe that Trump’s economic policies and positions on issues such as abortion reflect their conservative values.
“I do believe more Latinos are for Trump but are afraid to come out,” said Erika Cousino, 28, a Latina and stay-at-home mother in Luna Pier, Michigan who thinks Trump’s ads are a good way to reach the community.
Daniel Bucheli, a Trump campaign spokesman, declined to say why the Facebook ads in Spanish largely skirted the subject of immigration, but added the campaign can appeal to Latinos by focusing on a strong economy, including a historically low jobless rate for Latinos.
The campaign has brought that message to a series of rallies aimed at Latinos throughout 2019, including a “Vamos to Victory” tour of events in Texas, New Mexico and Florida.
Among Trump’s Facebook ads in Spanish between May and Oct. 15, none included text calling for tougher immigration policies, according to the Reuters analysis of ad data published by Facebook, which includes ad text but not photos or videos.
The tone of Trump’s English-language ads on immigration has been harsh. Dozens say an “invasion” is underway.
“If illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centres, just tell them not to come,” read a Trump ad in July.
Bucheli said that Latinos appreciate Trump’s efforts to stop illegal drugs from entering the country and to deport illegal immigrants, particularly criminals.
“The Latino community is no different than any other in the sense that they too want to live in safe communities.”
(Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco; additional reporting by Chris Kahn in New York, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Grant McCool)