Though Election Day is less than three months away, I still don’t know whom I will support for president. That wouldn’t be so surprising if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve spent most of my adult life working in Republican politics. I've helped direct millions of dollars and hundreds of volunteers to sway undecided voters while working for several GOP candidates, including for three Republican presidential campaigns. In 2012, I worked for the Republican National Committee (RNC). And that fall, I joined Mitt Romney’s presidential team.
But now, for the first time in my life, I am one of those undecided voters I once courted.
I’m a woman, a new mom, a wife, and a proud Hispanic American, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a Cuban political refugee. Above all, I am an American who believes in the importance of getting involved in our nation’s democracy. Yet, given that this election seems like a bad joke, I am not surprised by the growing apathy surrounding it.
The things that Donald Trump has said and done make me uneasy and physically uncomfortable. Trump’s reckless language about women, Hispanics, refugees, and immigrants, as well as his attacks on religion and his recurring assaults on fellow Republicans make me feel like he is taking my vote for granted.
Becoming a mom has changed my point of view on a lot of things, especially politics. The moment I officially became an undecided Republican voter was the week Trump set his sights on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
Trump claimed that the Indiana-born federal judge overseeing the Trump University case could be biased against him because of his Mexican heritage. What followed were several days of cable news coverage in which Trump and his army of surrogates, rather than pulling back from that statement, continued criticizing Judge Curiel and his ethnicity.
I wonder what I would tell my infant son if he were old enough to understand. As a mother, how would I explain to him that the Republican nominee for president didn’t believe an American of Hispanic heritage like himself was American enough to do his job?
I went to the Republican National Convention in July to try to make up my mind about Trump. I had hoped that he would pivot away from the sideshow of insults that marked his campaign throughout the primary. I went to Cleveland, hopeful to see a candidate I could vote for in the general election. But in the weeks that followed, I was proven wrong. It just got worse.
Trump was never my first choice, but I respect the fact he was elected as the GOP nominee. To disregard Trump’s appeal is to overlook the problems facing millions of our neighbors who are worried about the economy, feel ignored by politicians, and scared about national security and the upsurge of terrorism attacks.
Trump won the primaries by uniquely tapping into the anger and angst felt by millions of working class Americans who believe Washington ignores their struggles. These voters are counting on him to change what they feel is a broken system. I understand their frustration. It is some of the same anger I’ve heard from many Hispanics and Latinos for years. They, too, are annoyed by the corruption and cronyism they feel are all too common in politics.
In fact, these are some of the issues that would encourage me to vote for Trump, as well. But one of the things that gnaws at me is that Trump doesn't seem interested in spreading his message in neighborhoods with people that look like me or other minority communities. While the RNC continues their commitment to engage diverse voters, Trump has shown little interest in doing his part to expand such efforts and grow a diverse coalition of voters.
I’m worried that the years I — and hundreds of my Republican colleagues — have labored to expand the GOP and share an inclusive Republican agenda of opportunity, will be undone by an “unfiltered” candidate that has given little priority to minority voters (who are becoming a larger share of the electorate every year).
Voters in the general election are very different than those who voted in the GOP primary. If Trump is to win, he needs to expand his electoral efforts beyond his established, largely white male supporters. Unless he owns some kind of secret, scary human-cloning machine, these voters are not enough to win him the election.
At the same time, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton. She has proven to be an untrustworthy and weak leader. As much as I detest Trump’s nasty rhetoric, I equally dislike Clinton’s record, be it her email scandal, the continued rise of terrorism since her tenure as secretary of state, the Benghazi scandal, or her foundation’s hypocritical ties to oppressive regimes that suppress the rights of women and LGBTQ people. It doesn’t help that she is essentially branding her prospective presidency as an extension of President Obama's, and embracing his economy, which most Americans feel is heading in the wrong direction.
So, where does that leave me? I want to vote Republican, but Trump has not made it easy.
As a GOP operative who loves the competition of helping Republican candidates win, of course I want to see a Republican in the White House. Voting for Trump means electing Republicans and conservatives to the president’s Cabinet and throughout the federal government. It could help millions of Republicans running down ballot, including for the House of Representatives, Senate, and in local races.
Ideally, a Trump win would increase the number of candidates and federal appointees who believe in free markets, individual liberty, economic freedom, and share a healthy distrust in an intrusive government win, too. These are principles that I feel are not likely to be championed under a Clinton administration.
I want to be a good Republican soldier, but in order to do that, Trump needs to earn my vote. Trump’s words have consequences. He has eroded Republican confidence in his candidacy, and now he must fight to win it back. If Trump wants to win, he is going to have to convince me, and people like me, that he is listening to our concerns. My vote has value, and if Trump wants it, he has to work for it.
Trump has time, but it’s running out. The Trump team has one final opportunity to connect with disaffected Republicans and persuadable Independents as we enter the last phase of the campaign season. His biggest test will be the presidential debates.
Can Trump take that stage and surprise us all — not in the way he's been doing with clickbait sound bites — but with leadership and a strong campaign? Can Trump once again shock the electorate by commanding the presidential debate stage? Can he convince voters he's more commander in chief and less Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?
If there is one lesson we have learned from the 2016 campaign so far, it is to expect the unexpected.
Bettina Inclán is a Republican communications and political strategist. The views expressed here are her own.