EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.
In 2012, Republicans issued an infamous autopsy that outlined the future strategy of the party that would include enticing Latinos. “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence…. If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies” the RNC report read. Six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, it appears that Latinos across the board have heard their message. It is clear that Republicans don’t have just a Latino problem—they have a generational crisis on their hands.
A new poll by Latino Decisions, Latino Victory Project and America’s Voice suggests that the Latino conservatism is stuck. Nearly every significant demographic of the Latino population that is key in Latino outreach for Republicans is in retreat.
On the whole, 68 percent of Latinos think the nation is headed on the wrong track and 41 percent of Latinos believe the Republican Party is so anti-Latino, they could not consider supporting them in the future. When the data is disaggregated, the numbers are even more troubling. Registered Latino voters, U.S.-born Latinos, second-generation, third-generation, Latinos of Mexican descent, Latinas, college-educated Latinos, millennials, Latinos over 50, and the Latino middle-class believes that the Republican Party is so anti-Latino they cannot see themselves voting for them in the future or is being hostile toward Latinos.
While many believed Trump would destroy a nearly half century of hard-fought outreach, this new poll reflects it. The groups that were previously considered open to Republican ideas are no longer receptive. Forty percent of U.S.-born Latinos believe that the Republican Party is hostile to Latinos and 43 percent of second-generation Latinos believe the GOP is hostile. More telling, 43 percent of second-generation and 44 percent of third-generation Latinos believe that the Republican Party is so anti-Latino they cannot consider voting for the GOP in the future. Over 40 percent of Mexican descent Latinos (who comprise 60 percent of the Latino population) consider the GOP too anti-Latino to consider voting for them.
College-educated Latinos and Latinas are no longer receptive to the GOP message. Nearly 50 percent of college-educated Latinos believe that GOP is so anti-Latino they cannot consider voting for them in the future and 43 percent of college-educated Latinos believe that GOP is being hostile toward them. Latinas are all turned off to Republican messaging—38 percent of Latinas believe the GOP is being hostile.
The GOP has also lost the faith of the Latino middle-class—45 percent of Latinos making $40,000-$80,000 a year and 45 percent of Latinos making over $80,000 a year believe that the Republican Party is so anti-Latino that they cannot vote for them. Nearly half of the Latino middle-class believes the GOP is being hostile toward Latinos (44 percent who make $40,000-$80,000, 43 percent who make $80,000). For comparison, only 9 percent of Latinos who make $40,000-80,000 think Republicans are doing a good job.
It is clear that that the groups that were once targets of Republican Hispanic outreach have been repulsed by the victory of Trumpism in the GOP. The young, especially millennials, think it nearly impossible to vote for Republicans. The influence of Trump’s objectionable policies could have an impact for decades to come. Only 13 percent of Latinos ages 18-29 generally agree with the GOP and are likely to vote for them in future elections. Meanwhile, 43 percent of Latinos from ages 18-29 (millennials, who comprise half of all Latino voters) believe that the Republican Party is so anti-Latino that they cannot consider voting for them in the future.
Trumpism even affected older voters—46 percent of Latinos 50 years and older believe the GOP is too anti-Latino for them to vote for them. More troubling for the GOP is that 74 percent of Latinos 50 years and older believe Republicans don’t care about Latinos or are being hostile to them.
These numbers indicate that Trump destroyed key messages, promises, and policies that Latino Republican operatives developed over the last 10 presidential elections, and there is growing evidence that young Latinos will not be receptive to their messages again.
Republican outreach began in earnest in the 1970s under the premise that Latinos could be persuaded by Republican policies. For much of the 20th century, there was a strand of Latino social conservatism that did not criticize key institutions like the family, the military, and the free enterprise system. These Latino leaders believed these structures would only be made stronger by Latino integration and participation. Republican leaders agreed.
In a 1976 speech to the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, President Gerald Ford articulated as much: “Hispanic genius, Hispanic energy, Hispanic pride and Hispanic dedication have strengthened our political system. You have advanced our goals in the best interest of the highest aspirations of all Americans. I need your abilities and your skills for America—and for the Republican Party. The Republican Party is a channel for a new era of Hispanic involvement.”
In the following decade, Leonel Sosa, the head of Ronald Reagan’s Latino outreach, famously quipped that Latinos were Republicans who just didn’t know it yet. Sosa believed that messages about economic growth, limited government and small business would resonate.
This strain matured through the early 2000s. Latino Republicans ably built upon the idea that the basic institutions of the nation were good and Latinos would only make them better. They used individual Latino successes as evidence of the success of the American political and economic systems. Latino CEOs, small business owners and immigrants were proof that the free market worked and that government intrusion wasn’t needed. More Latinos on TV, more Latinos in the military, more Latino in the middle class, more Latinos in the church pews were proof that something was profoundly right and good with America. Latino success was evidence of the nation’s success.
In 2000 and 2004, Latinos voted for George W. Bush more than for any Republican presidential candidate in history. The key strategists of Bush’s Latino outreach believed that only about 30 percent of Latinos were so partisan that they would never vote Republican. That left them between 60 and 70 percent of the Latino population, if they convinced every persuadable Latino voter in the country. A perfect performance would be about 60 percent. George W. Bush received 44 percent of the vote (according to Republican pollsters, 40 percent according to Pew Hispanic Research Center). It was a great victory—nearly 70 percent of persuadable Latinos were persuaded. Then, Latino outreach dropped off dramatically in 2008 and 2012, which coincided in an abrupt ideological shift in the Republican Party. The neoliberal establishment was challenged by an angry insurgency that grew increasingly nationalistic.
In a last-ditch effort, the Republican National Committee issued the infamous (and now outdated) 2012 “autopsy report.” There it pinpointed young people and Latinos (and demographics show that the young population in the U.S. is increasingly Latino). “Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us,” explained the RNC. They hoped that the messaging of economic opportunity and shared values developed by the previous campaigns would persuade more Latino voters.
Then Trump happened. Crucial to the destruction of Republican outreach was not just his calls for a wall and the insults of criminals and rapists, but the fact that he used Latino success as proof that American institutions were broken. More Latino CEOs, more Latinos on TV, more Latinos in the church pews were proof that America had gone horribly wrong Toward the end of his inaugural address, he boomed, “We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.” According to Trump, it was the broken border that had allowed so many Latinos to steal the dreams away from real Americans. The paletero who had gone from pushing a small cart into opening a small business was an indication that America was no longer great. That Latinos were in the middle-class proved the economy was broken. This was the message that resonated: minority success came at the cost of white opportunity. Any gains made by Latinos were taken from the deserving hands of whites.
In a matter of two years, Trump destroyed nearly five decades of Republican outreach to Latino voters. He left the Latino Republican message in tatters. The numbers in this new poll indicate that Republican outreach to Latino voters is on the verge of destruction, not just for the moment but for generations.
The victory of Trumpism marks the defeat of Latino Republicanism. Time will tell if it spells the doom of the Republican Party.
Aaron E. Sanchez is a Texas-based writer who focuses on issues of race, politics and popular culture from a Latino perspective. He holds a Ph.D., with a concentration in U.S.-Latina/o intellectual history. He is a happy husband, proud father and an avid runner. He blogs at CommentaryandCuentos.com.