“What is it like to be caught in the crosshairs of a billionaire presidential front runner?” Fox News star Megyn Kelly asked Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos about his run-in with GOP presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
It was a sly question. Donald Trump has picked fights with Megyn Kelly, but it may well be his clash with Jorge Ramos — often referred to as the ‘Walter Cronkite” of Spanish language TV — that has far more lasting repercussions for his presidential aspirations.
What began as a press conference skirmish between GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos on Tuesday became a full-fledged media fight Wednesday. Ramos, anchor of the Spanish-language network’s news show, Noticiero Univision, with a nightly audience of 2 million, appeared on many network news shows to talk about Trump’s ejecting him from a press conference after Ramos challenged Trump about his proposed immigration plans.
“What I would expect is that I can ask a question as a journalist because that’s our responsibility and I would expect Mr. Trump to answer honestly about what he really wants to do because he hasn’t given us specifics,” Ramos said on “Good Morning America.”
Although Trump invited Ramos back into the conference and entertained his questions, the network’s CEO, Randy Falco, released a statement late Wednesday that called the ejection of Ramos “beneath contempt.” He said that “Mr. Trump demonstrated complete disregard for him and of the countless Hispanics whom Jorge seeks to represent through press questions that are at the heart of the First Amendment.”
Trump, for his part, said Ramos was “out of line” for interrupting the conference and said he was “ranting and raving like a madman.” He also said that he had a good relationship with Hispanics. “Do you know how many Hispanics are working for me? They love me,” he told NBC.
There has been bad blood between Trump and Univision, which refused to air Trump’s project, the Miss USA pageant, after Trump made disparaging remarks in June about Mexican immigrants. Trump countered by suing Univision for more than $500 million.
However, the current interactions go beyond corporate squabbles, according to experts, because of the combination of changing U.S. demographics and the unique position that Ramos plays, which some academics have taken to call the “Jorge Ramos effect.”
The cold math of demographics
Political research firm Latino Decisions, which is conducting Latino polling and research for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, says that Republicans need more of the Latino vote to win the presidency than typically thought.
The party’s percentage shares of both Latino and non-Latino voters have remained roughly constant from 2000 to 2012, even as Latino population has been growing and non-Latino representation in the populace has declined. Because of the demographic shifts, a Republican candidate in the final election needs between 42% and 47% of Latino votes in key battleground states. That is significantly more than the commonly-quoted 40% overall figure. Even George Bush, argues Latino Decisions, didn’t receive that much in 2004, and no other Republican has come close.
The Jorge Ramos effect
Ramos is, by far, the most-watched anchor among Spanish-language viewers. “In most major cities, he has the highest rated evening news show of any TV channel, including English channels,” Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions and Professor of Political Science and Chicano Studies at UCLA, told Fortune.
Not only that, he has high credibility. “We have research showing that Latinos who pay close attention to Spanish-language media, and in particular news in Spanish, are twice as likely to be excited about politics and participate,” Sergio I Garcia-Rios, professor of government and Latino studies at Cornell, told Fortune. “This is even among bilingual who prefer English. [And[ Jorge Ramos is the most trusted [news source among Latinos] in poll after poll.”
Garcia-Rios also has done research where Latinos were asked where they got news and information on day-to-day matters. “They quoted and talked about Jorge Ramos, even things that we know Jorge Ramos didn’t talk about,” he said.
In general, Latino media is seen as “committed to covering our community in ways the non-Spanish language media doesn’t,” as Mekahlo Medina, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told Fortune. “[Ramos has] really become the voice for Latinos in the US when it comes to news across all platforms: television, certainly, but digital with millennials.” Ramos also has a show on Fusion, a joint venture between Univision and ABC aimed at a millennial market. “He’s the person who stands up and asks questions on behalf of Latinos,” Medina added.
Will Latino celebrities follow suit?
Because of his standing and Univision’s reach, Ramos is a key to the Latino vote and any questionable treatment of him could be perceived as a dismissal of the concerns of Latino voters of all ages. Wednesday evening, Fusion posted an op-ed by entertainer Ricky Martin, entitled “It’s time for Latinos to unite against Donald Trump.”
According to Barreto, “When he tells Jorge Ramos to get out of the room and go back to Univision, that’s pretty close to saying go back to your country,” Garcia-Rios said. “That is nativist language. [Feuding with Ramos] is probably the one thing to do to spark the opposition of Latinos, and [Trump] did it,” Garcia-Rios said.
That may well spell trouble for Trump and could become a long-term threat to the Republican Party.