Donald Trump disparages Mexican migrants as rapists and criminals infesting the United States and vows to kick them out.
The would-be deporter-in-chief delivered on his tough talk on Tuesday by ordering paid bodyguards to toss the best-known Hispanic journalist in the U.S. out of an Iowa news conference for daring to ask Mr. Trump a tough question about his plans to expel 11 million people.
The showdown between The Donald – reality TV star, billionaire property magnate and currently the frontrunner among the 17 declared Republican presidential hopefuls – and Jorge Ramos, widely regarded as the most influential Hispanic voice in America, escalated an already bitter rift between Mr. Trump and a voting bloc vital to GOP chances of regaining the White House.
Mr. Trump was unrepentant Wednesday, adding fuel to the media firestorm following his every move.
"He was totally out of line," Mr. Trump said of Mr. Ramos. "He stood up and started ranting and raving like a madman." So after bluntly telling Mr. Ramos to sit down, Mr. Trump motioned to his burly private security detail to remove the journalist.
The confrontation came in Dubuque, Iowa, the state where the real race for president begins early next year. The small, overwhelmingly white state is unrepresentative of broad U.S. demographics but its caucuses are an important first step on the long road to the presidency.
The bizarre drama continued when Mr. Ramos returned after about 15 minutes and Mr. Trump dealt with his questions in a long exchange between the two.
"How are you going to deport 11 million?" Mr. Ramos asked.
"Very humanely," Mr. Trump mockingly replied.
Mr. Trump's bombastic attacks on Mexicans and women – in both cases often laced with slurs and vulgarities – have attracted enormous media attention, but they also pose grave difficulties for a Republican Party that must win more support from both groups if it wants to avoid losing in 2016.
Treating Mr. Ramos with disdain will further enrage Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority in the United States and one that is vital to winning key swing states like Florida and Colorado.
Mr. Ramos, 56, is sometimes compared to Walter Cronkite, the hugely influential CBS news anchor whose publicly voiced doubts about Vietnam were widely regarded as the tipping point in public support for the war. Mexican-born, Mr. Ramos came to the United States as a young journalist and became an anchor for the Spanish-language broadcasting giant Univision. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2008 and has championed immigration reform. For years he has criticized President Barack Obama for failing to deliver on his promise of comprehensive action on the issue.
"The new rule in American politics is that no one can make it to the White House without the Hispanic vote," Mr. Ramos, who is keenly aware of his own power, said in an interview earlier this year. It's a view widely shared by political analysts but also a clear message that he expects both Republicans and Democrats to submit to interview requests.
Even as they watch Mr. Trump soar in the polls – albeit early ones in a still crowded field – mainstream Republicans recall the bitter lessons they were suppose to learn from the stinging loss in 2012.
Exit polls showed only 27 per cent of Hispanic voters had backed Mitt Romney, who had said he wanted unlawfully resident immigrants to "self-deport," compared to the 44 per cent for George W. Bush in 2004. In a blunt post-mortem the party conducted after that defeat, Republicans warned that the party was doomed unless it broadened its appeal.
"If Hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn't want them in the United States, they won't pay attention to our next sentence," the post-election report said. "It doesn't matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think that we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies. In essence, Hispanic voters tell us our party's position on immigration has become a litmus test, measuring whether we are meeting them with a welcome mat or a closed door."
Yet Mr. Trump's nativist clarion call has proved so powerful among Republican right-wingers that few of his rivals are willing to openly challenge him.
Some, like Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who is married to a Mexican-American, speaks fluent Spanish and has a proven record of winning majority support among Hispanic voters, have distanced themselves but declined to directly oppose Mr. Trump.
The real showdown may come not when Mr. Trump's rivals dare to cross him on immigration but when the bombastic billionaire makes good on another promise he made near the end of his confrontation with Mr. Ramos.
"You and I will talk," he said, an indication that perhaps Mr. Ramos will get the in-depth, on-air interview he has been seeking with Mr. Trump.