New Mexico has the country’s largest Hispanic population, about 49 percent, and Trump assured potential voters that despite his tendency to conflate Latinos with criminal behavior and his administration’s policies, including detaining immigrants from Latin American countries and, in some cases, separating children from their parents, he has their best interests at heart.
As he often does to show that he’s down with some people of color, Trump noted that Steve Cortes, a television commentator and supporter, was in the house and quipped: “He happens to be Hispanic, but I’ve never quite figured it out because he looks more like a WASP than I do. … But I’ll tell you what, there is nobody that loves this country more or Hispanics more than Steve Cortes.”
Trump then asked Cortes: “Who do you like more: the country or Hispanics? He says the country. I don’t know, I may have to go for the Hispanics, to be honest. We love our Hispanics!”
Although some Hispanics were offended by those comments, Trump made other pronouncements that would resonate with some Latinos, particularly those who support the Republican Party, said Geraldo Cadava, a professor of history and Latina and Latino studies at Northwestern University.
Take Trump’s declaration that “the Hispanic Americans understand they don’t want criminals going across the border, they don’t want people taking their jobs, they want security, and they want the wall. They want the wall.”
Cadava said the Republican Party understands immigration is not the top issue for Hispanic voters, a fact borne out by public surveys. Immigration, Cadava said, “is not … even the second or third thing Hispanics care about,” Cadava said, adding that economic issues, including jobs, education, health care and homeownership rank higher. “Hispanics have never been single-issue voters,” he said.
It’s the same rationale cited by other Trump supporters, who say they will vote for him despite his incendiary rhetoric, including racist tweets aimed at African American, Hispanic and Muslim members of Congress.
Cadava, who has a book coming out next year about the history of conservatism among Hispanics, says it is unclear how much support Trump will get from Latinos in next year’s presidential election, but history suggests they might not behave any differently than they have in the past. Since 1972, when President Richard M. Nixon set out to cultivate Hispanic support, Republicans have usually received close to or more than 30 percent of the Hispanic vote. Before 1972, Hispanic support for Republican presidential candidates was in single digits or low teens.
In an article for The Washington Post’s Made by History blog, Cadava wrote: “Because of Nixon’s perceived support for Hispanics and the issues they cared about — chiefly political inclusion, economic uplift and this strand of virulent anti-Communism — Nixon won more than 30 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1972, more than doubling the support any Republican candidate had won previously.”
Since then, Hispanic support for the Republican presidential nominee has hovered close to 30 percent, and even climbed into the 40s for George W. Bush. In 2016, 28 percent of Latinos voted for Trump. Hispanic support for Republicans has generally been about half that of white voters but far higher than the single-to-low-double-digit rate for black voters.
Cadava said the Trump campaign is making moves to court Hispanics, including a “Latinos for Trump” kickoff event in Miami in June. Vice President Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and others spoke at a gathering of Hispanic small-business owners this year in Washington.
Based on what he has heard at the event in Washington, as well as from his conversations with Hispanic Republicans, Cadava said the Republican “playbook” will be talking up low unemployment rates and higher median incomes for Hispanics under Trump. Republicans also will attempt to link liberal lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), who has described herself as a democratic socialist, to the economic and social turmoil of communism in Cuba and socialism in Venezuela.
Cadava spoke to About US about what he has learned talking to Hispanic Republicans as part of his research for his book. This interview has been lightly edited.
Too many pundits think Hispanics will be outraged by the administration’s harsh immigration stance.
“Ever since the ’90s, when the Republican Party has increasingly taken a hard right turn on immigration, Hispanic Republicans have pointed out that immigration is not the first or even second or third thing that Hispanics care about. Hispanics have never been single-issue voters, but Hispanic Republicans have been more pressed to announce that, and count on that to still be true now.
“Also, as one Puerto Rican Republican explained to me, the Republican National Committee for the last 10 years has spent millions of dollars in door-to-door campaigns in Hispanic neighborhoods and makes sure that there are paid organizers who show up at every single community event talking about homeownership and how Republicans are the party you should support because they make it easier to purchase your own home. So all of the [anti-immigration] bluster doesn’t really matter because on the ground, the RNC has been organizing in the Hispanic community for a long time, focusing on things that people really care about.”
Hispanic Republicans are no less loyal than other members of the party.
“Hispanic Republicans today are really wrestling with what they’re going to do in 2020. The people I talked to have been Republicans for 40 or 50 years. … I’ve talked to some who actively support efforts to have Trump primaried by another Republican. But out of 30 to 40 people I talked to, only one said he hopes a Democrat kicks Trump’s butt in 2020. Everybody else has been wrestling with it. One activist told me, ‘I don’t love Trump, I don’t like the things he says, but I’m going to vote for him because I will not let one man ruin the movement we’ve spent decades trying to build.’ From his perspective, a vote for Trump is a vote for the Republican Party, not the individual Donald Trump.”
The notion that Hispanic Republicans will abandon their party en masse is flawed.
“Political scientists always want to say x percent of Hispanics oppose abortion or are veterans of the military and x percent oppose gay marriage and the sum totality of all of those individual issues are supposed to explain why Hispanics vote for Republicans. But as I see, it’s loyalty to the Republican Party that’s developed over a long period of time, to the point that it’s hard for them to consider switching parties now. It’s really hard for them.
“Hispanic support for Republican candidates has ebbed and flowed, dipped and climbed, but it’s usually about a third. It shot up to 40 percent in 2000 and 44 percent in 2004 for George W. Bush, and Hispanic Republicans looked at his election as a hopeful sign of a shift forward for the Republican Party. Now, in retrospect, it’s seen as more of a blip that had to do with his own personal appeal, his brother Jeb and the work he had done, and his family has had a long-term commitment to recruit Hispanics to the party.
“The Democratic Party is waiting for the moment when there will be a tidal shift of Hispanics toward it, and it seems that the ground is ripe for that because of everything that not only Donald Trump has said and done over the past four years, but everything the Republican Party has done over the past 25 years. Democrats have been waiting for the moment or election when there will be some kind of tidal shift toward the Democratic Party, and it hasn’t happened — and may not happen even in 2020.”