DC DISPATCH-When I attended a LULAC (League of Latin American Citizens) annual conference in 2016, Hillary Clinton was the presumptive nominee and keynote speaker.
As someone who has Hispanic roots and identifies with many of the issues facing the demographic, I had delusions of grandeur, not for myself but for Clinton and the Latino Community. I thought that she would capture 85% of the Latino vote and in key states such as Texas, North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada. 2016 would be the year that the Hispanic vote would become tangible, a recognized force that would help seal the electoral college victory for Clinton. Sadly, my prediction was wildly inaccurate, and Hillary Clinton received less than 66% of that predicted vote.
According to the Pew Research Center, Hispanics are expected to account for 13% of the voting population in 2020, surpassing the African American community’s representation of 9% for the first electoral cycle in history. So, it makes sense that Beto O'Rourke and Corey Booker would squeeze some Spanglish into their respective debate performances. However, the Democratic Party is failing in making this constituency solid blue and my anecdotal interactions with multiple Hispanics in Northern Virginia support this claim.
I spoke to two Hispanic Women and two Hispanic men hailing from different parts of Northern Virginia. As I speak both Spanish and English, I told them to speak to me in either language they felt most comfortable with -- all chose Spanish. All the respondents had their own small business although some used them to supplement income and others as the main source of funds. What I discovered was shocking.
“I saw the Democratic debates and the candidates focused too much on African American issues from decades ago. We came here from El Salvador and have earned every cent we have and only believe in supporting the less fortunate via our church. I have never heard of Unidoas,” said one the ladies. “Donald Trump has been great for my family. We saved over $50,000 in tax cuts on our small business last year.”
When I asked Nelly about the treatment of migrants at the border, she demurred. “I feel bad for them, but it is now a crime to cross the border illegally.” Nelly came across the border illegally with her husband eight years ago. They now are a family of four and she was sympathetic to the alleged mistreatment of children. When I pointed out it wasn't too long ago that she was a migrant, she said, “Listen, I crossed the border illegally then took the proper legal steps to become a citizen. I would never dream of asking for asylum at the border, because I, like many others, was an economic migrant.
Jesus has his own car repair shop and is the son of two illegal immigrants from Honduras. When I asked him if President Trump’s statements on Hispanic immigrants bringing crime and drugs to our borders were bothersome, he wasted not a second. “They do bring crime and drugs. I have a family that wants to leave Honduras because of the problem of crime and drugs, but they are older, and the trip is too dangerous for them. I am not a fan of Trump, but I don't feel like the Democrats are focused on second generation offspring of immigrants, who want affordable college, healthcare, and childcare.”
Rosa is also a former illegal immigrant from El Salvador and works at a “peluqueria” (hairdresser). She is paid under the table, paid a coyote to cross the border over a decade ago, and is now a voting citizen. I asked her what she thought about President Trump’s cuts in aid to El Salvador and Honduras. “Listen,” she said, “these are very corrupt governments, if you want to call them that.”
There is a chasm between members of the Hispanic community who have earned their way to citizenship and those who have not; most of them care about the economy first. “If Trump can keep the economy stable, I can live with his obnoxious personality,” they all admit. Julian is a Lyft driver who drives part-time and is also a small business owner. He thinks there is a trend of Hispanics leaving the Democratic Party and becoming Independents. “I don't identify with Donald Trump and am an Independent -- not in the Bernie Sanders sense of the word. Anyone who thinks socialism is a good idea, should look to the chaos in Venezuela. If Donald Trump is the stable genius he claims to be, he should court Hispanics. We are culturally conservative and are hard working. We are not looking for a handout.”
Democrats can count Asian Americans and African Americans as solid constituencies. In the 2018 midterms elections, Asian Americans voted Democrat 77% and African American 90%. However, Hispanics voted Democrat only 66% of the time. According to the Pew Research Center, close to 27% of the Hispanic were voting for the first time in 2018, so the Hispanic electorate skews to younger generations.
With legions of active political organizations and members of Congress to represent their interests, what is clear is that these interests are diverse, do not represent the many left-leaning advocacy groups, are influenced by whether they are citizens, whether they own small businesses, and how aligned they have found their economic fortunes to be with either party.
Latinos can no longer be counted upon to vote Democrat like African American and Asian American constituencies can. This represents a great opportunity for Republicans. If the White House and the President could court Latinos as small business owners, who are a valued segment of our society, he may no longer need to fight losing battles such as the Census citizenship question. The gerrymandered districts where Democrats have taken steps to incorporate Latino communities into their districts could backfire, leading to blue districts voting red for years to come. All Trump needs to do is speak Spanish better than Beto and maybe stop by for a meal at a “Pupuseria” with Republican strategist Steve Cortez.
(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Koz, The Frontier Post in Pakistan and other important news publications.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.