Just two years after publicly vowing to make inroads with Latino voters and media, the GOP’s only scheduled debate on a Spanish-language network has been shelved -- and that slot may end up going to Democrats instead.
The Democratic National Committee confirmed to MSNBC that Telemundo, an NBC-affiliated Spanish-language network that had been scheduled to partner with NBC News on a GOP debate Feb. 26, reached out to the DNC about potentially hosting a Democratic candidate forum instead. Though the DNC said Telemundo had long been interested in hosting a forum, renewed calls to them came shortly after the Republican National Committee announced it had suspended the NBC-Telemundo debate in protest of last week’s CNBC debate, which drew the ire of Republican candidates and the national party. CNBC is a sister network to NBC News but is under separate editorial control.
A DNC spokesman said the committee doesn’t broker candidate forums the way it does debates, but if their candidates agree to attend, the committee will assist networks in the logistics and promotion. If it happens, the forum would place the Democratic primary candidates on a Spanish-language network stage twice during the nominating process. (The DNC has already sanctioned a March debate with Univision and The Washington Post.) It's a stark contrast with the GOP candidates, who presently have no debates scheduled that are hosted by Hispanic media.
The RNC told MSNBC on Monday afternoon that it hasn't made a final decision about the suspended NBC News/Telemundo debate, and is expecting to continue conversations with the campaigns and NBC. Though the RNC is still officially brokering the debates, the candidates this weekend moved ahead with plans to take control of the televised gatherings and personally negotiate the debate terms.
At a Sunday night meeting of the leaders of all but one GOP campaign, attendees were torn on how to handle the NBC/Telemundo debate. The party’s two front-runners -- Donald Trump and Ben Carson -- oppose reinstating the debate, while representatives for the bilingual Jeb Bush -- who is making a big play for Latino voters -- fought to bring it back.
The suspension of the NBC News/Telemundo debate comes just three years after Republicans scored their lowest number of Latino votes in three presidential elections. In 2012, the nation's fastest-growing minority group favored President Barack Obama over Republican nominee Gov. Mitt Romney by a 71% to 27% margin. In its post-election autopsy, the RNC vowed better outreach and a stronger presence in Latino media as part of an overall strategy to draw more Latino voters to the party. Telemundo declined to comment for this story.
“The RNC must put significant effort and resources into reaching out to Hispanic media and news outlets. This needs to be a high-level presence on all Latino media,” the party wrote.
This year’s Latino outreach likely hasn’t gone as planned for the GOP, however, with Trump making illegal immigration -- and at times a condemnation of immigrants -- a centerpiece of his campaign.
Since announcing his bid in June, Trump has vowed to build a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and has called some illegal immigrants “rapists” and criminals. Trump's rhetoric has provoked outrage from the Latino community, leading several of his business partners to cut ties with the real estate mogul. Trump says he still expects to win the Latino vote.