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New RNC Head Of Hispanic Communications On Trump's Messaging

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Republican Party has a problem with Latino voters, as in they need more of them. But their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, tends to say things that push that demographic further away. Last month, the RNC's head of Hispanic outreach stepped down. Apparently, she was uncomfortable with Trump at the top of the ticket. Helen Aguirre Ferre just took over the job. And she insists that, despite all his controversial rhetoric, especially on immigration, Donald Trump is the best choice for Latino voters in this presidential election.

HELEN AGUIRRE FERRE: Because we see that Donald Trump is an authentic voice. And he is one who is really going to be a champion for the economy. And he's going to bring the nation forward, especially after you see that, in the last eight years, Hispanics, Latinos, have been done so poorly in this economy. And as a matter of fact, unemployment is higher than the national average for Hispanics than for any other group at this time. And Donald Trump really provides programs and policies that really will make the difference.

MARTIN: So I don't have a tell you that this is also a candidate who has rendered some pretty divisive rhetoric when it comes to immigration and immigrants, in particular, early in his campaign, making comments about immigrants directly from Mexico. Let's listen to that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems. And they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

MARTIN: How did you hear that comment at the time?

FERRE: I have to say that I was surprised by the comment. But at the same time, it's something that I hear a lot of folks in border states mention. What Mr. Trump is really referring to is, of course, not all immigrants, but he's talking about that segment of the immigrant community who are undocumented and who are violent. It is a minority. But let me tell you, for those folks who live in border states, they really feel it.

MARTIN: But your candidate does have a problem with Latino voters. According to a recent poll - this one by Fox News - 74 percent of Latino voters said they have an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump. And Hillary Clinton beats him with Latinos by almost 40 points. How do you close that gap?

FERRE: Well, that's one of the things that we're working on right now and one of the things that we look at. But Latinos aren't dumb. I mean, they also see that Hillary Clinton has totally flip-flopped when it comes to the issue of immigration. She was one who has supported the deportation, said President Obama was right in being deporter-in-chief. She's been in favor...

MARTIN: But your candidate wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country now.

FERRE: She's been in favor of offense. And what Mr. Trump has been saying is not new. He has been saying that these undocumented men and women should return to their countries of origin and then provide a pathway so that they can re-enter the country. If you really want to talk about, you know, an issue that really bothers Hispanics, is that President Obama lied about his promise of delivering immigration reform in his first year in office. And he didn't deliver.

MARTIN: Your job is communications, so you pay attention to message. And words matter in your work. Do you have concerns that the kinds of statements that Donald Trump makes is damaging?

FERRE: I think words always matter. And that's why, you know, we are worried not only about, you know, what any candidate would say, but we also look at what President Obama says. You know, President Obama has been so clear that language matters. That's why we want him to say Islamic terrorism and it occurs here. And the same thing goes for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

MARTIN: I'd like to play another clip of tape for you, another instance in which Donald Trump made waves, to say the least, with Latinos voters. He was talking about the judge in the Trump University case who happens to be of Mexican descent. He's an American citizen, but Donald Trump said he's unfit to hear the case because of his ethnic background. This is a clip from CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: He's proud of his heritage. I respect him for that.

JAKE TAPPER: You're saying he can't do his job because of that.

TRUMP: Look, he's proud of his heritage, OK? I'm building a wall.

MARTIN: How do you hear comments like that?

FERRE: I can't speak to the case. I am not familiar with that. But I don't agree that a person's heritage is going to necessarily make you prejudicial one way or another. The judge, of course, was an American citizen born in the United States, and I think that speaks for itself. Mr. Trump did say that his statements were misconstrued. And I take him for his word.

MARTIN: You know, there was a tough election in 2012. And the RNC came out with this autopsy report saying that the GOP absolutely had to be a bigger tent. That meant doing better with Latino voters. And in some of the reporting that I've done, I've had conversations with card-carrying Latino Republicans who were already in the GOP column. But even they, this year, feel like the party has abandoned them because of its support for Donald Trump. I imagine these are exactly the people who you are trying to convince to stay with the GOP while convincing new voters to come in. But how do you make that case?

FERRE: Well, I'll tell you something, Rachel. You know, I see that the RNC has made important contributions since 2012 in a number of states. And we have a number of people working in a number of critical battleground states. That makes a difference. And not only that, we're finding that there are a number - a large number - of persuadable voters, those who are independent - and some who are Democrat - who are coming to the Republican side and supporting Mr. Trump for 2016.

MARTIN: That was Helen Aguirre Ferre. She is the new head of the Hispanic outreach at the RNC. And to hear our reporting from North Carolina, where we focused on Latino voters, you can visit my Facebook page at facebook.com/rachelmartinnews. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.