The story has been told so many times we're no longer sure it's true. But former President Ronald Reagan is reported to have said this: “ Latinos are Republicans. They just don't know it.” And I've heard many Republicans repeat it. True or not, their goal is to make it a reality.
Hispanics have historically voted more for the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. But in the most recent elections, Donald Trump managed to strip away millions of Latino voters. Using the latest tallies from the 2020 elections, the Pew Center concluded Trump won 38 percent of the Latino vote. That's a significant increase from the 28 percent of the Hispanic voters that supported him in 2016.
I did not expect that. If someone hits you and insults you, why would you vote for him?
In an interview awhile back, Lionel Sosa, a pioneer in political publicity and adviser to three presidents, told me why he left the Republican Party when Trump became the presidential candidate. “This man does not know us,” Lionel told me. “He despises us. He insults us and rejects us ... For him, Latinos are nothing.”
He was referring to Trump's racist comments in 2015, that Mexican immigrants were “criminals” and “rapists.” He would add other insults later, saying that some migrants come from “shithole” countries and arrogantly throwing rolls of paper towels to Puerto Rican survivors of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Why vote for someone who attacks your people? The minds of voters can sometimes be a mystery. Or perhaps that only confirms the idea that Hispanics are not a monolithic group. And that immigration is not the main issue for Hispanics who want secure borders.
In 2020 there were 32 million Latinos registered to vote, and more than half voted – 16.1 million, according to a study published by Univision and the organization L2. That's a record, worthy of applause. Without the Latino vote, where 59 percent favored Joe Biden, he would not be president. An estimated 10 million Hispanics voted for him.
What is surprising is that more than six million Latinos voted for Trump. Why did they do that? Perhaps, as Reagan seemed to have suggested, Latinos are more conservative than we want to admit.
And there are some Republican tenets – like opposition to abortions, support for the right to bear arms, the importance of religion and violence, and the idea that a small government is preferable to a large and intrusive one – that are attractive to some Latino voters. The low unemployment rate before the pandemic also may have attracted many Hispanic voters.
No doubt, the Republican electoral messaging that tried to identify the Democratic Party with socialism had some impact on Cuban and Venezuelan voters and others who fled authoritarian systems. And at a time of crisis, like the pandemic, there are voters who prefer to support those already in power instead of trying new faces.
Democrats are also to blame for the loss of support. Many Latinos are tired of their promises on immigration and the meager results since 1986. It is hard to forget – and forgive – a party that had control of both chambers of congress and the White House in 2009 and yet failed to come through on its promise to legalize millions of undocumented migrants.
The Republican party knows that, and dreams of splitting the Latino vote in half. George W. Bush almost did it in 2004, shortly after he launched the unjustified invasion of Iraq. Patriotic feelings were still running high after 9/11 and W won 44 percent of the Latino vote.
The reality is that the party that controls the Latino vote will also control the future of the United State. Latinos now total nearly 60 million, and by 2050 we will be 106 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Within 30 years, almost one out of every three Americans will be a Latino. That confirms the 1984 words of farmworkers leader Cesar Chavez: “We’ve looked into the future and the future is ours.”
That's why there's a fight for the votes and support of Hispanics.
In the meantime, the Latino Trumpers continue to be a mystery. We don't know if they voted for a strong and anti-immigration leader, or whether they have shifted toward more conservative values. Either way, both parties are trying to understand their political motivations, the better to woo them.
For some, to be a Latino and support Trump is a contradiction. How can you support someone who does not want your brothers, your friends or neighbors in the country? But Trump broke the traditional rules of U.S. policies, and we are still feeling the inmpact today. Few Republican candidates dare to criticize him openly, and some even seek his political benediction.
Instead of facing reality and boasting about that 38 percent of the Latino vote, Trump insists on lying that he won the 2020 presidential elections. That is not true. But if the Repblicans want to return to the White House in 2024, they already know that the road is full of ads in Spanish.