Read: The neglect of Latino voters
Republican boosters in the region talked about improved quality of life, business opportunities, and educational access to institutions such as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Trump amplified this narrative of regional progress and gave many in the area hope. Monica De La Cruz–Hernandez, a Republican who narrowly lost her race for a congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley, told me that Trump had helped Mexican Americans “find their voice.” Now they’re “walk-away Democrats” who shifted their support to Trump more dramatically than Latinos in other parts of the country.
Trump aggressively talked about law and order in a way that appealed particularly to Latino men in the Border Patrol, military, and police departments. In the days before the election, Latino leaders of the National Border Patrol Council expressed support for Trump’s immigration and border policies. Art Del Cueto, the council’s vice president, said, “We must continue to support the rule of the law and continue to support President Trump.” Trump also received the endorsement of the National Latino Peace Officers Association Advocacy.
The Trump administration focused on Latino churchgoers, deputizing Vice President Mike Pence to visit gatherings with Latino evangelicals and tell them that Trump was the defender of their religious liberties. Members of this religious group have deeply ingrained anti-abortion-rights beliefs, and they also responded to the administration’s support for religious charter schools and its general desire to blur the lines between religion and public life. Latino evangelicals aren’t all Republicans. One of their leaders, Gabriel Salguero, has called them classic swing voters whose political allegiance is divided. But they do support Republicans at greater rates—46 percent—than the general Latino population does.
Finally, the idea, spread through scaremongering campaigns, that most Democrats are socialists worried Latinos whose families had fled leftist-controlled governments in Latin America. Socialism was also shorthand for a range of ideas related to government overreach in healthcare, the economy, and education.
Latinos certainly contributed to Biden’s margin of victory. The former vice president’s campaign and its pollster Latino Decisions point to the dramatic rise in Latino participation. However, the campaign has been criticized for not beginning its outreach earlier. It didn’t really start until the days before the Democratic National Convention and focused on us during Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall, despite the fact that Latino political strategists have long argued that a candidate can’t expect our support if he shows up only in the final months or weeks of a campaign.
But to believe that earlier outreach would have led to a dramatically different result is to ignore the political agency of Latino Republicans and Trump supporters. Republicans in 2024 will look to replicate Trump’s relative success among Latinos, perhaps without the racism. Democrats, meanwhile, should grapple with the reality that a growing number of Latinos voted for the Republican Party’s policies. They should engage Latinos across the country, beginning today, to understand how to better represent their preferences on issues including healthcare, education, the economy, and immigration. If Democrats hope to reverse the gains Republicans made this year, they should also pay attention to what about Trump drew Latinos in.