Hillary Clinton is moving to get more than 80 percent of the Hispanic/Latino vote in November, a measure not seen in half a century. Perhaps Lyndon B. Johnson received as much or more in his lopsided win in 1964. In this day and age, support of that kind among Hispanic/Latinos can trigger a landslide.
Clinton appears to be winning majorities across the entire Hispanic/Latino population. The latest defection is Carlos Gutiérrez, the Cuban-born Secretary of Commerce in the administration of George W. Bush.
The highly respected Gutiérrez sees his vote for Clinton in November as a vote for free and open trade, and he has voiced grave concerns about Donald Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric. To some extent, Gutiérrez perhaps now sees part of what many Hispanic/Latinos for years have seen in Clinton.
For me — for whom cynicism comes easily from my newsroom years — I remember the day I became part of the 80 percent. My time as a journalist had passed when the Monica Lewinsky scandal involving Bill Clinton blew across the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and millions of television screens with the force of a hurricane. And Hillary, of course, was in the middle of the storm.
My first time to lay eyes on her was at the beginning of the tempest. She was the featured speaker at the annual dinner of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in 1998 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The swirling scandal was engulfing the White House five blocks away, with talk of the President’s imminent resignation cascading across town. Inside the Mayflower, the expectation built among the small, intimate crowd as the time neared for her to appear.
Many in the room were Clinton political appointees, and their tense, worried expressions collapsed into chagrin when someone at the table interjected the specter of impeachment. The person seated next to me suggested Clinton should have called in sick. Another speculated she would look a mess. Someone referenced The Taming of the Shrew. Soon enough, the number of Secret Service agents deployed grew, flooding the room. Expectation muffled the chatter and noise. Gossiping mouths stopped in mid-sentence; wide, inquiring eyes said everything.
And then there she suddenly was.
She was resplendent in a blue dress. Her hair, perfect. Her smile wide. She did not hold her head high so as to avoid. Rather, she was making direct visual contact with people and waving at friends she recognized. She had entered the arena.
Audiences by tradition stand by rote when the President’s wife makes an entrance. But this crowd rose slowly, near-paralyzed at what it saw: A woman not cowed; an individual with self-respect intact; a professional driving a stake into the ground to claim it; a winner in command. Her glamour radiated her courage into the crowd. The crowd embraced her in ever-growing applause. Her countenance struck me, and I could only wonder what was coming next.
What came next was a long, protracted dinner that must have been excruciating for her. With hundreds of eyes on her, Clinton carried on conversations with others at the head table as if they were talking about Kramer’s latest antics on Seinfeld. At long last, the actor Jimmy Smits introduced her, and it was her turn to speak in a room at near-silence. The waiters and waitresses had joined their also-entranced supervisors, all conjoined in the drama.
She started by joking about the many beautiful people in the room, cleverly underscoring her own bedazzling aura. Then, after the usual acknowledgement of political potentates and luminaries large and small, she plunged into a speech that without any teleprompter or notes ranks as one of the best speeches I have ever heard about the state of the Hispanic/Latino community and its promise. She was nothing short of brilliant.
She talked about her time growing up and coming to understand the complex history of the Hispanic/Latino in this country. The statistics and figures and facts she drew from her head were as normal as the breaths she drew from within. More important, she provided context. She knew where everyone in the room fit in the current and future story of the country.
In an ever-confident voice, she talked about registering voters in South Texas Hispanic/Latino precincts in 1972. She talked about children and the role of women, of Hispanic/Latino veterans, the need for all to commit to civil rights and social progress. Her demeanor demanded respect. She mesmerized the crowd. And she caught me off guard.
I was not expecting anything like what I saw that night. I wish I could swear that at the time I entertained the thought that she, not Bill, should be President. I did not. I was too in shock to see it. But I see it now.
Since then, she has given hundreds of speeches to Hispanic/Latino audiences throughout the country. When you are in the marketplace for as long as she, your brand gets around, and if your brand is one of competence, intelligence, courage, compassion and loyalty, the brand sticks. And as every marketer in this country knows, Hispanic/Latinos are brand-loyal if anything.
What you see is what you get with Hillary Clinton. She is neither shrew nor saint. But compared to Donald Trump, she is eminently presidential. Has been for years.
Since her youth, Hillary Clinton has given to the Hispanic/Latino community. She has invested real, hard work on behalf of Hispanic/Latino children, so much of the nation’s future. Her soul gives others hope. Now a rate of return awaits her dedication and commitment.
An 80-percent-plus rate of return is about right.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.