Lately, Democrats have done a spectacular job of chasing away Latino voters and pushing them into the arms of Republicans.
Yet Republicans don’t have the foggiest idea about how to hold onto these people. Latinos are a tribe that most Republicans don’t think about, care about, or know much about.
While Democrats are stuck in a paradigm that is Black-and-white, most Republicans live in a world that is white-and-whiter.
On the doorstep of the 2022 midterm elections, many of the nation’s 62 million Latinos are disgusted with both parties. America’s largest minority is also one of the fast-growing parts of the electorate, and a lot of them seem ready to mark their ballot “None of the Above.”
In a recent Axios-Ipsos poll, 46 percent of Latinos went with Democrats while only 23 percent picked Republicans when asked which party better represented their concerns. The same poll showed that 40 percent of Latinos felt the Democratic Party took their support for granted, and 51 percent said the same thing about the Republican Party.
Did you catch that twist? More Latinos feel taken for granted by Republicans (who don’t have their support) than by Democrats (who do).
Many Latinos remain skeptical about Republicans, and they think, with good reason, that the party’s outreach is phony and fleeting. With a couple of notable blue moon exceptions—Ronald Reagan in 1984, George W. Bush in 2004—the GOP has spent the last 60 years not giving Latinos the time of day.
Now, when Republicans make even the slightest overture to Latinos, they’re suspect. For Latinos, hard work is sacred. Many of us don’t respect Republicans, or see the GOP as a permanent home, because we know that the party hasn’t put in the hard work to earn our support—as opposed to merely inheriting it because Democrats are idiots.
Still, for Republicans who desire a greater share of the Latino vote, all is not lost. They have three saving graces.
First, they’re the pro-business party, and a message of lower taxes and less regulation plays well with a population filled with entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Second, while the Republican hard line on social issues—including its pro-life zealotry on abortion—might scare off white women in the suburbs, they don’t have that effect on a largely Catholic community.
And third, Republicans don’t need Latinos to formally change their party registration, only for Latinos to vote now and then for the occasional Republican candidate who is not a fire-breathing crazy person.
Republicans also have one final thing going for them: Democrats.
The Democrats’ strategy for how to lose the Latino vote goes as follows: Ignore the bread-and-butter issues that Latinos care about like education, jobs, and the economy and focus instead on issues they don’t much care about like critical race theory, climate change, and punishing Trump for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Take Latino votes for granted, without going into the community and asking for their support. Go full-Trump with Biden’s immigration policy to calm “anxious” suburban white voters.
That’ll do it. Bravo, Democrats.
Yet, the Latino flirtation with the GOP won’t last long—maybe not even until the next election—if Republicans don’t find a way to keep their hands on those Latino voters.
And the party of Donald Trump—and his three elves, Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, and Doug Ducey of Arizona—is way out of its depth.
White Republicans who are burned out on “race” talk and buzzwords like “inclusion” seem more likely to scare off Latinos by hardening their stances on hot-button issues.
“They could very easily be swing voters from election to election,” Cliff Young, Ipsos president of U.S. Public Affairs, said of the poll his company conducted with Axios. “But the issues of race and immigration and the related framing around it has really pushed them away from Republicans.”
Perhaps this was to be expected. Political parties are creatures of habit that don’t change who or what they are.
My grandfather, Samuel, was a tejano who favored Stetson cowboy hats. Born a U.S. citizen in Goliad, Texas, he had the right to vote his entire life. In fact, he probably would have cast more ballots had it not been for an illegal poll tax that demanded a day’s pay to exercise the privilege. He never saw the GOP as being in his corner.
“Republicans are the party of los ricos (the rich),” he once told me.
All these years later, that’s still true. Democrats are no longer really the party of the poor and the working class. But Republicans are still the party of the rich. Their base is made up of rich white people who think tax cuts and looser gun laws will fix everything.
The GOP hopes it can find enough Latinos to think the same way. It’ll find a few, but not many. It would increase its bounty if it were willing to change a little, soften its edges, be less menacing, and do more outreach.
Above all, Republicans need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes that Democrats made.
When large numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from Latin America started making their way to the United States in the 1990s, in part because of the trade imbalances that resulted from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Republicans succumbed to nativism and went full restrictionist. That sent Latinos—nearly half of whom voted for Reagan in 1984—back into the arms of Democrats, whose pro-union wing is also anti-immigrant. In any case, once Latino voters were firmly in hand, Democrats quickly forgot about them and put their outreach elsewhere.
That created an opportunity that some folks believe the GOP is still not prepared to seize.
That’s the view of Chris Roman, founder of Roman Communications Group LLC, a Las Vegas-based marketing and consulting firm that helps companies and organizations reach Latinos in English and Spanish.
“I think the Republicans will squander this opportunity. I really do,” Roman said. “They haven’t gathered beyond the usual suspects, the Latino faces that they have working on some campaigns.”
He wants a bigger investment, starting with personnel.
“I don’t see Latinos in senior positions in the Republican Party,” Roman said. “The party is not putting the pieces together fast enough.”
It is poetic. For nearly a century, Republicans have preached about how there is no free lunch and Americans shouldn’t expect to get something for nothing.
They need to take that message and apply it to themselves. Right now, Republicans are getting Latino votes that they haven’t earned.
That won’t last. So the GOP needs to put in the work, invest the time and spend the money to stake a claim in this growing constituency. Along the way, they will need to brave the inevitable pushback from white Republicans likely to resent these outreach efforts because they already feel marginalized and pushed aside by changing demographics.
For Republicans, putting in the effort to show they deserve Latino support is easy. But if they just do nothing and go about business as usual—either because of complacency, laziness, or fear—they’re going to find that losing those votes is even easier.