On Sunday, a crucial bloc of Hispanic voters had a chance to weigh in on the GOP Presidential Primary. They made a statement, loud and clear. In Puerto Rico, Marco Rubio won by a landslide. He took 71 percent of the vote. Donald Trump, the national frontrunner, received 13 percent while Ted Cruz only received a paltry 8 percent. The results of this race potentially has wide implications for not only the nomination battle but the general election as well.
The immediate result is that Mr. Rubio received all 23 of Puerto Rico’s delegates, which is the same amount that Mr. Cruz won in Maine the night before. In the race for the nomination, any increase in the delegate count helps. But more importantly, the result could help Mr. Rubio in his crucial (and tight) race to win his home state of Florida. Puerto Ricans are a large and growing voting bloc in Florida and they typically tend to follow the lead of voters on the island. With this blowout, Mr. Rubio’s path to victory in his home state may have just gotten a little easier.
But the results also show that Hispanic voters may not be enamored at all with either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz. It should be especially concerning for Mr. Cruz, as he was rejected soundly and unequivocally. Mr. Cruz could not even reach double digits in a territory that his campaign clearly expected to do better in. They had people on the ground for months. They were openly discussing the possibility of competing in Puerto Rico and the results showed that Mr. Cruz barely beat the collective vote of people no longer in the race.
That Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump, the two men currently leading the national race, were beaten so soundly in Puerto Rico is a bad omen for the general election if either one is the nominee. It shows that Mr. Trump, who loves to brag that he will win the Hispanic vote, has in fact alienated these voters (as polling suggests) with what is seen as anti-Hispanic language and behavior.
For Mr. Cruz, it shows that he too has alienated a critical bloc of Hispanics with his rhetoric. The results in Puerto Rico are a wake up call and a reality check to any Cruz supporter who believes that he would be as competitive as Mr. Rubio among Latino voters.
The Republican Party must perform better among Hispanics in order to have any shot at winning the Presidency. Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, a disaster that was caused, in large part, by the same anti-immigration rhetoric currently used by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump.
In order to offset the losses among black voters and the constant decrease in white turnout, the GOP needs a minimum of 40 percent of Hispanic voters (some say it’s now as high as 47 percent) to win the White House. They are going to have a hard time doing that if they nominate either a man who refers to Mexicans as “rapists” or a man who refers to illegal immigrants as “undocumented Democrats”. Even though those issues pertain to specific subgroups, it sends an antagonistic message to all Hispanics, including Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens.
A Rubio volunteer who participated in Get Out the Vote efforts in Puerto Rico told me that the general attitude was that those voters were motivated to make a statement against Mr. Trump. A voter told her, “We are all here for Marco because we don’t like Trump”. The margin of victory was no accident. Puerto Rican voters are not impacted by immigration policy, so the fact that they were so passionately against both Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz should be a red flag to those concerned about winning the general election.
Regardless of how the Trump campaign tried to spin the results of the Nevada caucus, the truth is that the race in Puerto Rico was the first that Hispanics in large numbers let their voices be heard in the GOP primary. The results were clear. They wholeheartedly embraced Mr. Rubio and soundly rejected both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump. If either of the two leading candidates are nominated and lose the Hispanic vote by historic proportions, no one should be surprised. Puerto Rico tried to warn you.
Darvio Morrow is the CEO of FCB Entertainment, Inc and co-host of The Outlaws Radio Show on iHeartRadio.