Kristian Ramos: Latino support for Trump is real
This strategy is a dramatic shift from Trump’s approach in 2016, but it’s not new: It’s similar to the Republican Party’s traditional playbook to activate its Latino base, and it takes advantage of the starkly different values that liberal and conservative Latinos hold. Public reaction to the week’s events clarified Latinos’ differing priorities, Geraldo Cadava, a professor of history and Latino and Latina studies at Northwestern University, told me. Liberals zeroed in on Unanue’s statements, advocating for a boycott of Goya and arguing that Latinos supporting Trump are hypocrites because of his anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. But Latino Republicans saw Trump embracing the economic, educational, and cultural priorities that many of them share.
“That week was about so much: free trade with Mexico, charter schools, easier access to loans for Hispanic business owners—but the whole week was focused on Goya and identity politics,” said Cadava, who has written a book on Hispanic Republican identity.
Enriquez attended the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative ceremony, representing his conservative-Latino voter-education nonprofit Bienvenido. He told me the event was further evidence of Trump’s dedication to Latino prosperity. “I have heard this president stand behind the mic and boast of how proud he is of Hispanic working Americans, how we’re the backbone of the economy of this country,” he said. Trump “has really put Hispanic voices on the table and let us talk to America about the issues that we face, and the things that we need.”
This emphasis on opportunity builds on a larger theme that Trump has relied on in his speeches at Latinos for Trump roundtables and visits to Arizona and Florida: the specter of socialism and an encroaching federal government.
Enriquez told me he thinks older Latinos, many of whom immigrated decades ago, are wary of an active federal government “because they know what it’s like to come from a country where government is so big that it actually oppresses the individual.” Although Trump has stretched the bounds of executive-branch authority more than once, he champions a small-government agenda on several issues conservative Latinos care about: He’s said he wants to cut business regulations, make it easier for Latinos to attend charter schools, and provide ample room for religious practice in the public and private spheres.
What many non-Hispanic Americans don’t understand, Cadava told me, is that “the socialism argument is a proxy for so many things: charter schools, health care, religious freedom, and the business environment—it’s shorthand for the role of government in American life.” Conservative Latinos, like other Americans, have been wrestling with what kind of relationship they want to have with the government for decades, and they don’t see a compelling response from the Democrats advocating for government to be more active in resolving social and economic inequality.