What If Hispanics Turned Out for Trump?
It's unlikely, but it would cause interesting shakeups in both parties.
As ambivalent as I am about a Donald Trump victory—or, for that matter, a Joe Biden one—there is one scenario I would enjoy: What if Trump was re-elected thanks to support from Hispanics?
Now, I should say this is only a remote possibility. There's zero indication Trump can win a majority of Hispanics nationally. Biden currently has about a 20-point lead among Latino voters nationwide. But the whole reason the thought comes to mind is that Biden is underperforming among the fastest growing demographic group, even at a time when he is generally doing better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and has been holding a steady lead over Trump for months now.
The biggest worry for the Biden campaign is that Trump is actually leading among Hispanics in Florida, a crucial state for Democrats and an absolute must-win for Republicans. This is largely because Cuban-Americans tend to be more supportive of Republicans more than other Hispanic groups, and Trump's anti-socialist rhetoric probably has special appeal to a community with long memories of Castro's takeover of Cuba.
But the fact that Trump is doing well with Hispanic voters in Florida highlights an important point: Hispanics aren't a monolithic group. Cuban-Americans are very different from Mexican-Americans and Mexican-Americans are very different from Puerto Ricans.
This is true culturally—just ask some of them!—but it’s also true as a matter of public policy. The national media often makes it seem like Hispanics generically care about immigration with equal intensity simply by virtue of the fact that they're Hispanic. But Cuban-Americans historically had a special carve-out in immigration law (until 2017 when Obama ended the “wet foot dry foot” policy as part of his overture to Cuba). Puerto Ricans may care about immigration for principled reasons, but it's worth remembering that Puerto Ricans aren't immigrants. They're U.S. citizens.
Anyway, you get the point. So why would I enjoy it if Hispanics voted decisively for Trump? Because it would make some people look like idiots and force pretty much everyone to rethink their locked-in positions on not just immigration but on identity politics generally.
Much of the intensity around the immigration issue in recent years has stemmed from the belief that Democrats want “open borders” so they can import evermore Democratic voters. There are thoughtful and non-racist versions of this argument and there are dumb and very racist versions of it as well. But it's gotten to the point where it's mostly just a lazy talking point.
But it's a persuasive talking point to many people because so many Democrats talk as if that is precisely their thinking. As Peter Beinart noted in a 2017 essay for The Atlantic, “As the Democrats grew more reliant on Latino votes, they were more influenced by pro-immigrant activism.” In 2008, he noted, the Democratic party platform condemned illegal immigration. In 2016, the platform didn't even mention it. According to many Democrats, the word “illegal” has a nativist and offensive tinge.
I hate most of Donald Trump’s rhetoric about immigration and immigrants, but wouldn’t it be wild if it turned out to be more offensive to rich white liberals than to the actual targets of his diatribes?
Meanwhile, the racists who tell me—usually in ALL CAPS—that importing brown people is suicidal and that's why we must support Trump would, to borrow a phrase from that great Cuban American, Ricky Ricardo, “have some ’splaining to do.”
And so would the progressive activists and politicians who think they can summarize the views and attitudes of a huge, and hugely diverse, group of human beings.
Again, I wish Trump wouldn’t use racist rhetoric about immigration. But if Hispanics voted for him in large numbers despite that rhetoric and despite his immigration policies (or even because of them), it would deal a mortal wound to the claim that wanting to enforce immigration laws or making our immigration system slightly more restrictive is racist.
Lastly, Hispanics themselves would benefit in the long run simply by virtue of the fact that both parties would now compete for their votes.
I understand this is a hard argument to make with Trump in office for a lot of reasons, and I personally wish we were talking about a different Republican presidential candidate. And it's not going to happen this time, anyway. But Trump's relative success with Hispanics suggests it could happen someday, particularly with a Hispanic GOP nominee. And that’s something to hope for.
Photograph by David McNew/Getty Images.