Trump Asks CNN's Steve Cortes at N.M. Rally, 'What Do You Like More, the Country or Hispanics?'

The president held a rally in New Mexico on Monday night as part of his efforts to reel in Hispanic voters come 2020

Donald Trump rally
Photo: Cengiz Yar/Getty

As part of his ramped-up efforts to appeal to Hispanic voters, President Donald Trump hosted a rally in New Mexico on Monday that included a bizarre shout-out to CNN contributor Steve Cortes, who was quizzed on whether he loved the United States or Hispanics more.

Trump, 73, addressed a crowd in Rio Rancho — which held signs reading sayings such as “Latinos for Trump” — and first introduced Cortes by commenting on how he looked “more like a WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant]” than Trump himself.

“Another great friend of mine, somebody that was on CNN and they didn’t like him because he was too positive on Trump … He happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do,” Trump said. “So I haven’t figured that one out, but I’ll tell you what, there is nobody that loves this country more or Hispanics more than Steve Cortes.”

At that point, Trump called out to Cortes in the crowd and asked, “What do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?”

After Cortes answered “country,” Trump responded, “I don’t know, I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest with you. We got a lot of Hispanics. We love our Hispanics. Get out and vote.”

Cortes, a member of Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council, addressed the exchange on Twitter Tuesday, acknowledging the odd wording but criticizing those who took it the wrong way.

“Re: the President’s comments to me last night at the rally – awkward phrasing but he was merely trying to point out that I love this country AND Hispanics a whole lot, joking that he can’t tell which I love more,” he wrote. “Critics should stop imputing malice where there is none. #MAGA.”

As for Trump’s comments about CNN, Cortes has appeared as a pro-Trump commentator on the network, though a report from The Hollywood Reporter in mid-August claimed he’d been “benched” by CNN, and had not appeared in more than a month.

“They just won’t book him. They’ll just pay him. They won’t fire him, because that’s just blatant. But they won’t book him, and they’ll tell all the producers not to book him,” a former CNN contributor told the outlet of Cortes.

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A CNN spokesperson later confirmed to the Washington Examiner that Cortes was still on the payroll, and Cortes’ Twitter bio still describes him as a “CNN Political Commentator.” (CNN did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.)

Meanwhile, Trump continued in his attempts to reel in Hispanic voters, telling the crowd on Monday that the demographic knows the drug crisis “better than anybody.”

“People said, ‘Oh, the Hispanics won’t like the wall.’ I said, ‘I think they’re gonna love it.’ They won’t like border security. ‘I think they’re gonna love it,’” he said. “You know why? Because you understand it better than other people.”

The population of New Mexico is nearly 50 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ahead of the rally, Trump retweeted several infographics from the White House that promoted his efforts related to the state of New Mexico, including one that claimed business applications in the state were up by 29 percent since he was elected.

He lost the state to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, and a Republican candidate has not won New Mexico since 2004.

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