Substance Over Style: Trump, GOP Make Gains with Hispanic Voters

Liberals in the media, politics and activism have said for years that President Donald Trump’s “alienating immigration agenda” was causing spikes in Hispanic engagement and activism and leading many Hispanics to fear for their place in America. A top adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden conceded in September that they were lagging among Latino voters, so the campaign responded with more immigration attack ads.

Others doubled down on another stereotype – that of the macho Latin man. New York Times reporter Jennifer Medina wrote in an October article that to Hispanic men, “the macho allure of Mr. Trump is undeniable. He is forceful, wealthy and, most important, unapologetic.”

Those who could see beyond the amorphous “Hispanic” label they place on  Americans of Spanish or Latin American descent recognized that the 28 percent of Hispanics who supported Trump in 2016 would likely to remain backers in 2020. In fact, President Trump actually increased his share of the Hispanic vote to 35 percent, a 7-percentage-point increase, and upped his support among blacks by 4 percent.

The improved performance among Hispanic voters may fall short of delivering a second term to President Trump, but it was critical to securing Florida and Texas for Republicans and contributed to several important wins for GOP House candidates.

There are some key takeaways from Florida and Texas.

There was a consequential growth in support for Trump among Hispanic voters, particularly Cuban-Americans in Miami and Puerto Ricans in central Florida, when compared to the 2016 election. By focusing on an economic message that was anti-socialist and pro-small business, and having surrogates or the president engage different groups at smaller events, Trump was able to boost his support by 10 points statewide and won the state by more than 3 percentage points.

The anti-socialist message was effectively used by former journalist and GOP candidate Maria Elvira Salazar in upset victory over incumbent Democrat Rep. Donna Shalala. The former Clinton Cabinet member and president of the University of Miami, but Shalala proved to not only be too liberal for many Hispanic voters. .

Trump also showed better in 2020 among Hispanics in Texas, in part because of a concerted focus by the Trump campaign to push back on Democratic efforts to turn the state bluer. And the work paid off as Republican candidates surprised in the heavily Democratic Rio Grande Valley and other border counties.

For example, in Zapata County, which is 93 percent Hispanic, Republicans had not claimed in a presidential election since Warren G. Harding was elected almost a century ago. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the county by a 75-to-32 percent margin, but this election Trump won it with 52 percent to Biden’s 47 percent. That performance was mimicked in other heavily Hispanic border districts.

In McAllen, the largest city in Hidalgo County, Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez barely eked out a victory over GOP businesswoman Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez after cruising to victory in 2018. The incumbent Democrat managed to win with 50.5 percent of the vote, while Cruz-Hernandez, who ran on a platform stressing strong borders, anti-human trafficking, jobs and common-sense immigration, came in close with 47.6 percent

In broader terms, there has been a failure by the media elites and Democratic strategists to understand a voting bloc upon whom they are betting their electoral future. For instance, Hispanic Democrats are more centrist than their party, particularly on social issues, and they vote like most Americans do – in their own self-interest. That is even truer during a pandemic with record unemployment levels.

Comprised of varying ethnic and regional backgrounds, Hispanics or Latinos cannot be seen as a monolithic bloc. There are Hispanics that support building a border wall and tighter limits on immigration because of how unrestricted immigration directly impacts their economic well-being or their children’s futures.

“Latinos, like all Americans, are motivated by the issues that affect them directly,” Isvett Verde, a staff editor at the New York Times, wrote in a November 5 opinion.

“Many Democrats act as if Latinos care only about immigration policy. In fact, a recent survey by UnidosUS, an advocacy group, and Latino Decisions, a polling and research firm, found that Latinos are more concerned about jobs and the economy.”

As Christian Pa recently wrote in The Atlantic magazine, Latino voters “don’t care if the president speaks harshly about immigration, because they support stronger efforts to regulate it and secure America’s borders” and “they don’t think the president is racist; indeed, they repeat his rhetoric about Black Lives Matter protesters and ‘open borders.’”

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