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Why this young Latina moved on from Rubio to Trump

Editor’s note: We caught a lot of heat for publishing this interview. You can get a sense of it from the comments below. So we wrote something over on Medium about why we think stories like this are important, and how journalists should handle any inaccuracies or distortions in an election season rife with them.

Last week, Jessica Fernandez, the president of the Miami Young Republicans, traveled to Cleveland to attend the Republican National Convention for her very first time.

When she got there, she found pretty much no one who looked like her — which is to say, young and Latina.

Just a few months ago, when she was campaigning for Marco Rubio, she couldn’t imagine seeing herself there, either. When she arrived in Cleveland as a delegate, she wasn’t sure who she was going to vote for. But by the end she had decided to cast a ballot for Donald Trump in an effort to preserve party unity and listen to the will of the people.

We spoke with her about what it means to be a young Latina in the Republican party of Donald Trump and what it was like being at the RNC for her first time.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed. 

You were interviewed by a ton of media outlets, and pointed out as a “unicorn,” because you were a young, Latina, Trump supporter. There’s not many people that can check all those boxes. What did it feel like to look around the room and not see very many people that look like you?

Well, there were other young people, just not anywhere I was sitting. I was sitting with the Florida delegates. We had New York in front of us and Tennessee behind us. I would have liked to see more young people. I mean I’m not a spring chicken myself but I was the youngest delegate from Florida. And we had Indian-Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and that was cool, but I would have liked to see more diversity in the delegation from other states. Texas had a lot of Mexican-Americans, but it would have been nice to see more.

We come from Miami, so you see people from all colors and religion and I guess we’re spoiled with how much diversity we have here. You don’t realize it until you leave. Even though there was a more homogenous look to the delegate body, I will say I was impressed that the delegates as a whole respected the will of the voters.

What do you mean that the delegates “respected the will of the voters?”

Their preferred candidate would have not been Donald Trump. There was some floor discussion about being able to unbind the delegates to vote for another candidate. There was movement on the floor, but ultimately the amendment failed. I was proud we had that discussion and it wasn’t brushed under the rug and wasn’t this thing that happened behind closed doors.

Ultimately I’m proud that we came together and respected the will of the people in their vote.

Quite frankly, going into the convention I was not convinced about Donald Trump, but just being there and recognizing that 66 out of 67 counties in Florida voted for Donald Trump, I thought it would behoove me to allow the sacred process of delivering the vote and not create chaos.

The convention was a time for unity — when I got there and started meeting more people it became crystal clear to me that I had to deliver the vote.

Jessica Fernandez was a Florida delegate at the Republican National Convention (Photo courtesy of Jessica Fernandez)
Jessica Fernandez was a Florida delegate at the Republican National Convention (Photo courtesy of Jessica Fernandez)

So what did you do as a delegate to Florida?

A delegate represents their state and their voters. We represent our district in that primary. We vote on the convention rules, the vice president, and the party platform.

Ok I know what the rules and the VP are. What do you mean by platform?

The platform is basically a document of many pages that a group of people in the committee vote on. I was not in favor of the extreme, harsh language towards the LGBTQ community in our platform. There are a lot of center-right conservatives like myself who were disappointed in the move. I think that language was the last gasp of air from the older remnants of the party, who are not going to be participating in the next four years. It was a desperate attempt to have authoritarian control.

I was looking forward to hearing from Peter Thiel and when he was talking about his work and entrepreneurship. He said I’m proud to be gay, Republican, and American. There was a huge roar from the delegates and people stood up. You could tell he didn’t expect that kind of reception. I don’t think he expected that roar, especially because they just voted on that platform.

Right. I mean you’re a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights. How do you navigate being a part of the Republican party and seeing your party vote on a platform that includes harsh language against LGBTQ people?

I think there’s a few people in the party and they don’t represent all of America or all Republicans. I don’t understand why the GOP has to go point by point on every single issue. I’d rather have an ethos we abide by. I haven’t read the whole platform, I don’t have time for that.

I still think the Republican party represents the party of the people. I think we saw that play out with this representation process. Donald Trump wasn’t the elite choice, but we didn’t stop it. It’s the will of the people and we hold that sacred. It’s the party of liberty, Democracy, and party of pro-enterprise.

Ultimately, I think human rights, LGBT rights, all of those things matter less if you don’t have an ability to support yourself financially. The Republican party is telling you “You can do it,” and the Democratic party is saying “You’re going to have a hard time and it’s okay if you can’t do it because we’ll take care of you.” I think that’s a shitty message — that you need to depend on the government.

How much does party unity mean to you and why is that so important to you?

At end of the day, it’s important for me to see a cohesion. We don’t have to agree on everything but as long as we can come together on important issues like education, health care … If there’s competing factions, I think party unity was the number one thing I was looking for in Donald Trump’s speech. I was skeptical when I went into the convention and I didn’t know what I was going to do, but after hearing Donald Trump’s message, I feel like he shifted his tone and I think that speech was a unifying speech.

He was saying “Listen, the other candidate wants you to say you’re with her … but I’m with you.” It’s time to come together.

Donald Trump hasn’t had the best track record with respecting immigrant communities. A few months ago he called all Mexicans “rapists.” How do you respond to that, being a Latina Trump supporter?

Well, first, since we’ve had an uptick in massive amounts of illegal immigration, we have seen an equal uptick in crime in many cities. We have a lot of immigrants who overstay their visas. They’re here for 10 minutes and already committing fraud. I think people who went through the process legally are fine. But others, they aren’t following the rules. If the first act of you being in America is you committing an illegal act, you’re not following the rules, you’re saying “I don’t care about the rules.”

We need to think about Americans versus foreign nationals who don’t have visas and are illegal. I think Trump’s words were shocking … But no other candidate was talking about about how bad illegal immigration has become. He used very hyperbolic tactics that we’re all still repeating a year later. He’s an incredible communicator and sometimes his words came across as alienating but [they] didn’t alienate citizens and voters.

For the past 30 and 40 years on either side of the political spectrum we’ve been promised political reform. We were told Regan was going to reform immigration and they haven’t done anything of that sort. There has been a lack of will to reform immigration.

I think Trump’s comments came across as harsh but what we’re dealing with is a harsh situation. People are tired of politicians sugarcoating things. He says what he means and he means what he says. You’re always getting authentic Trump. We might disagree, but you know he’s being honest. Would you rather deal with someone who you disagree with but is honest or someone you can’t trust? Americans value honesty and integrity people are tired of this careful “Let’s not offend anyone if we call you illegal because you came here illegally.”

Not every Mexican is a rapist, but there are some who have come here and committed horrific crimes. There have been documented instances where people commit a crime, get deported and come back. Donald Trump wasn’t my first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth candidate but he’s the only one that talks about how to tackle immigration.

He’s pretty brave. I wouldn’t have done it that way — it’s not my brand. But he uses the attack and amplify. He created a space to be able to speak about immigration and the problems with it. I think we should be more offended that our national sovereignty is being eroded by 30 or 40 million illegal immigrants.

Back in November, you were campaigning heavily for Marco Rubio. When we spoke then it didn’t seem like you would ever support a Trump presidency. I couldn’t imagine you saying these words a few months ago.

I don’t think I could have either. We’ve changed so dramatically. I completely misread the temperature of America. I misread the temperature of average middle class Americans. Just because they aren’t in the streets with pitchforks everyday, doesn’t mean they don’t feel upset and angry. For a long time the elites of my party controlled the party. We can see this in the Democrats as well — the party was ignoring the people and people are sick and tired of it. I think Donald’s biggest success and why he reached such a high position is because he disrupted the system.

Trump is the disruption candidate. He saw the problem and disrupted the cycle — he hasn’t reached a solution yet no presidential candidate really outlines their plans because they’re not fully cooked until they get into office but he has these broad ideas and policy prescriptions. They’re not fine tuned yet, but that’s the nature of the process.

I think Donald has been able to disrupt this election cycle and I fully respect the party establishment folks for not interfering with this sacred process because he offended our gentle sensibilities. Donald can say some crazy things and if i don’t 100 percent agree with him I’m not going to go to jail — we can disagree with him .

He was a disruption candidate and it got him endless media. He was able to respond to the average middle class America in a way no other candidate was able to respond to.

Do you really think Donald is going to change his mind on something because people are pressuring him to do so? I can see it as a strength now. He’s not going to change his mind based on public opinion, he’s going to be strong. He’s not listening to the voice of the media, he’s been listening to the voice of the people. Too often, elites control the messaging and are trying to undo him, but I think he’s being true to himself and the people he represents.