Parra, who dislikes the “defund” slogan but not its goal of stopping police violence, said Trump’s improved standing with Latinos amid the protests reflects a little-discussed problem in Hispanic communities: anti-Blackness. That’s an opinion held by other Latino commentators as well Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
In context, the debate over Trump’s gains with Latinos is a microcosm of the broader fault lines of American politics that break along race, class, gender, age, religion, region and culture. The GOP increasingly represents an older, heavily white conservative coalition of working-class people, church-goers and small business owners. Meanwhile, the younger Democratic Party includes a more progressive assortment of highly educated whites and people of color of all educational backgrounds.
“Something to those [Hispanic] voters is more important than what we might call cultural issues that a lot of people on the left are kind of obsessing over,” said Ryan Enos, a political geographer from Harvard University who was among the first to tweet a graphic showing the correlation between Hispanic voters and increased support for Trump nationwide.
“Most Latinos in this country are working class,” Enos said. “One would have to assume that this identity of being working class is more important than this identity of being Latino.”
Drama in the Valley
In Texas’ majority-Hispanic Rio Grande Valley and along the Texas border, where Trump did well for a Republican, progressive organizer Ofelia Alonso pointed out that “Latino” is a broad and imprecise catchall term for members of an ethnic group in which people identify as Black, white, indigenous, Asian, Middle Eastern or mixed race.
“A lot of people who voted for Trump, while they’re Latino, they’re also white,” she said, pointing to the city of Harlingen as a Trump-supporting “white city with money,” or South Padre Island, where “the class and race demographic is different than other parts of the Rio Grande Valley. More people have money and they’re really organized around the fact that they might not get taxed as much, and they feel the need to protect their wealth.”
Biden did far better with Hispanic voters in the more-populous Latino-heavy areas around Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. But overall, Trump lost the nation’s majority-Hispanic counties by a combined 12-point margin to Biden. In 2016, Trump lost them by 20 points.
From the start of his candidacy, through the primary and well into the general election, Biden’s outreach to Hispanic voters came under fire from critics in his own party. In South Texas, Alonso said, Biden gave the community “nothing to organize around.” The President-elect distanced himself at times from voters who weren’t threatened by socialism or “defund the police” — or who backed Sanders.
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist like Sanders, spent the days after the Nov. 3 elections similarly pushing back on moderates who blamed Latinos for Biden’s close call in swing states or losses by down-ballot Democrats. She noted that moderate candidates who rejected her help lost their races.
But unlike those congressional seats, Ocasio-Cortez’s Bronx-based district is more progressive, although that didn’t stop Trump from performing better there. Preliminary election returns show the president earned 29 percent of the vote in the district, compared with the less than 20 percent he received in 2016 against Hillary Clinton.
In Texas, Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar took issue with her comments about their colleagues who lost, pointing out that their California colleague Gil Cisneros was defeated in a race where his opponent featured him in mailers about socialized medicine that included Sanders’ photo.
“What Trump did is understand the basic values of Hispanics,” said Cuellar, a conservative Democrat who survived a primary challenge by the Justice Democrats group that helped propel Ocasio-Cortez to Congress. He said Latinos along the border are deeply patriotic, pro-business and favor fossil fuel development because of the jobs it brings, he said. Oil industry jobs and law enforcement were the top two issues Republicans ran on.
“This message about defunding the police, it’s real. When they talk about taking oil and gas jobs away, it’s real,” Cuellar said.
Republicans tarred Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones in her race for Texas 23rd Congressional District as a “radical socialist,” according to one of her consultants, who did not want to speak on record and described the candidate’s bio as “the hat trick of conservative terror: a woman, a person of color and gay.”
While the Trump wave rose in Latino communities along the Texas border, it was a tsunami in Miami-Dade County that drowned two Democratic congresswomen, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala.
Miami-Dade is the state’s largest county with the largest Latino population. Trump lost there by almost 30 percentage points in 2016. He lost it by just 7 points in November, the result of spending four years lavishing time and attention on communities scarred by leftist dictatorships and guerrillas: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia.
“The fear of socialism is real and engrained for those of us who fled dangerous places in search of the American dream,” Mucarsel-Powell tweeted on Wednesday.