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Donald Trump Gambles on Immigrant-Bashing Rhetoric

The controversial real estate developer doesn’t appear to have dimmed his presidential hopes by repeatedly insulting Mexicans.

No matter what the occasion, Donald Trump seldom wastes an opportunity to run his mouth. Is his recent anti-immigrant gaffe a calculated risk?

“When Mexico sends its people [to the U.S.], they’re not sending their best,” the 69-year-old chairman and president of the Trump Organization gushed during an unscripted June speech to announce his bid for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.” The real estate bigwig and television producer wasn’t done there: He later called for the construction of an impenetrable wall along the Mexico-U.S. border.

Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim Helú quickly shot back at his fellow billionaire — a rebuke that probably stung more than flak from celebrities and politicians. On July 1, New York–based Ora TV, which 75-year-old Slim co-founded through telecom América Móvil with TV host Larry King in 2012, canceled an unspecified project with several Trump companies. Slim’s $71 billion net worth dwarfs Trump’s by nearly 18 times over, making him the richest person in Mexico and the second wealthiest worldwide.

Big U.S. businesses like retailer Macy’s, mattress maker Serta and craft brewer 5 Rabbit Cervecería are also cutting ties with Trump. NBCUniversal, which co-owns the Miss Universe Organization with him and runs Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo, has opted not to air the Miss USA or Miss Universe pageants this year. That move followed Spanish-language TV broadcaster Univision’s decision to dissolve a deal to show the Miss USA pageant to its Hispanic viewers. The 2015 pageant, held on July 12 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, featured five Latina contestants, three of whom are of Mexican descent. The Miss Universe competition won’t even feature a representative from Mexico, according to Mexican media titan Grupo Televisa, which runs a national pageant that selects the country’s contestant. NBC is also looking to cast a new host for The Apprentice, a show that has been critical to building the Trump brand since 2004.

Trump is standing by his comments about Mexicans. “I love the Mexican people, but Mexico is not our friend,” he tweeted in late June. “They’re killing us at the border and they’re killing us on jobs and trade. FIGHT!” But he recognizes the fallout for his business partners. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America and the tycoon, who has 17 golf courses to his name, agreed to move the PGA’s 2015 grand slam tournament to somewhere other than the Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles to insulate the group from anti-Trump backlash.

Republican voters appear to have a taste for immigrant-bashing rhetoric from Trump, who flirted with a White House run most recently in 2010. CNN and market research firm ORC International’s latest survey, conducted from June 26 to 28, named him runner-up in the Iowa polls, behind former Florida governor Jeb Bush, among self-identified Republicans. Respondents also chose Trump as the second-best Republican candidate after Bush to handle illegal immigration. However, GOP leaders worry that Trump will hurt the party’s image, and many doubt that he can remain a front-runner.

Hispanics are a key demographic for any presidential candidate. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that they will number 63.5 million by 2020, up more than ten million from a decade earlier. They have economic clout too: Their annual spending power totals $1.2 trillion, New York–based research firm Nielsen Holdings estimates.

Only 26 percent of Hispanic registered voters in the U.S. identify as Republicans, according to the Washington-based Pew Research Center. Some 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls may hold particular appeal for the Latino community. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, who brazenly embraced Trump’s remarks, and Marco Rubio of Florida, who rejected them, are of Cuban descent, and Bush’s wife is from Mexico. Trump contends that he will win the Hispanic vote, though, thanks to the jobs his real estate developments create. For now he’s drawing conservative voters. “People rarely say that many conservatives didn’t vote for Mitt Romney. If I can get them to vote for me, we win in a landslide,” he tweeted in early July.

Still, there’s no escaping the damage to Trump’s bottom line. “This is certainly not good,” he recently told Fox News Channel. “I lose customers, I lose people.” But don’t expect any drop in business to cripple his empire, which also includes 38 residential and commercial buildings, seven hotels and a modeling management company. Building a wall between himself and Hispanics is a chance the developer seems prepared to take.

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