Donald Trump, John McCain, and immigration: The Hispanic community's response to Trump was much more damaging than his "war hero" comments.

The McCain Flap Might Ruin Trump's Poll Numbers, but the Real Damage Was Already Done

The McCain Flap Might Ruin Trump's Poll Numbers, but the Real Damage Was Already Done

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July 19 2015 4:19 PM

The McCain Flap Might Ruin Trump's Poll Numbers, but the Real Damage Was Already Done

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Donald Trump being loud at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s insult of John McCain’s war record on Saturday has led to nearly universal condemnation from his Republican primary adversaries. More importantly, it might also be the well-anticipated moment when Trump’s popularity in the GOP race comes crashing down. Whatever happens next in the campaign, though, it’s fair to say that the damage to Trump’s national personal standing and miniature media empire has already been done. That happened the instant he entered the race by attacking Mexican immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists,” and it happened thanks largely to an unprecedented grassroots response by Latino-Americans, Latino immigrants, and the broader Latino world. Whether or not Trump’s poll numbers return to earth because of the McCain flap, Trump’s entertainment properties don’t ever seem likely to recover from the damage caused by the united Latino response to his blatant xenophobia.

Trump’s remarks weren’t the first time Trump or a high-profile politician had made racist comments about Latinos. Trump himself has blamed crime on blacks and Hispanics before. But this time Latinos were quicker to unite and more effective to protest than ever before. Trump’s outsized personality probably had something to do with the passion of the response. But this became a watershed moment for the Hispanic community mostly because of how the outrage was manifested through social media, and how Hispanic mainstream media reacted to this discontent.

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In Latin America, politicians and celebrities channeled Hispanics’ collective indignation. Mexican ex-presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon called him an “idiot” and a “hypocrite,” while the Mexican congress declared Trump persona non grata. Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said Trump was a “bandit and a thief,” and that "whoever messes with Mexico, messes with Venezuela." Televisa, the largest Spanish-language network in the world, cut all ties with Trump, and Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico said they were not sending candidates to Trump’s Miss Universe pageant. Mexican celebrities like Gael García Bernal called him an “imbecile” and others like Puerto Rico’s Ricky Martin, Cuban-American Pitbull, Spain’s Chef José Andrés, and Colombia’s Shakira and Paulina Vega—the reigning Miss Universe—denounced his statements.

“When you attack one of us, you attack all of us,” journalist Jorge Ramos said during an award ceremony last week. “And on Election Day, we will remember.”

Indeed, Latinos of all nationalities voiced their collective indignation on social media. Jokes and memes quickly proliferated pointing out the abundant hypocrisies in Trump’s comments, like the fact that Trump brand suits have been made in Mexico and his hotels rely on the labor of undocumented immigrants.

Twitter was flooded with “You’re Fired”(“Estás Despedido”) memes, parody campaign posters, and images of Trump piñatas (along with cruder Trump-themed imagery).

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But the most effective reactions were the most personal. Adriana Almanza, a Mexican-American woman from Michigan, wrote a Facebook post in response to Trump that has garnered more than 330,000 likes and 145,000 shares. In it she described her father, who arrived illegally to the United States 30 years ago, as a true face of Mexican immigration.

“If my dad is any representation of the type of people Mexico ‘sends’, there is no doubt in my mind this country is getting the best,” Almanza wrote. “The best, to me, are those that work hard and still remain humble. That is exactly what my father embodies; that is exactly what the other millions of Mexicans embody.”

Perhaps even more popular was a video of a construction worker offering a barbed response to Trump in Spanish, all while continuing to work in 107-degree heat. “Look, asshole, this is my drug” he says, raising a mallet in one hand, “and this is my booze,” showing a hammer in the other. The YouTube clip has more than half a million views.

Hispanic media was paying attention, particularly Univision. After seeing the reaction from the Hispanic community, Univision cut ties with Trump, announcing it would no longer broadcast his Miss USA pageant. NBC soon joined Univision in ending its relationship with Trump, as did Macy’s, ESPN, the PGA, and NASCAR, to name a few.

The fact that Univision’s response was so in line with other major corporate brands was in and of itself a statement. Certainly, by treating the issue with the seriousness it deserved, Univision showed its audience that it respected them and that their voices mattered. But major companies also responded to Univision’s move not as a niche choice made by a niche network, but as a savvy business decision by an American ratings giant, a decision that ought to be emulated.

Whether or not the McCain comments are what brings Trump’s circus campaign to an end, once that run is officially abandoned don’t expect that he’ll be able to rebuild his public business empire so easily. Not if the Hispanic community has anything to say about it.

Juliana Jiménez is a former Slate photo editor and now a contributor writing on Latin American politics and culture for the Slatest. She translates for Democracy Now! and writes in English and Spanish for publications in Latin America.