Ruben Navarrette Jr.
San Diego – It’s like chickens for Colonel Sanders. Why would any self-respecting Latino vote to re-elect President Donald Trump, arguably the most anti-Latino chief executive in U.S. history?
That’s what my non-Latino friends want to know. I get that question all the time, often accompanied by a tilted head and a confused look.
In the 2020 election, Trump seems likely to get between 25%-30% of the Latino vote. A recent poll by Telemundo found that 1 in 4 American Latinos would vote to re-elect him.
In 2016, according to exit polls, Trump got 28% of the Latino vote. He did better than Sen. Bob Dole, who got 21% of the Latino vote in 1996, and Sen. Mitt Romney, who got 27% in 2012. But he couldn’t match Sen. John McCain, who got 31% of the Latino vote in 2008, or President George W. Bush, who got 40% in 2004. Anything north of 30% is a decent showing for a Republican, and anything beyond 40% will make a GOP candidate virtually unbeatable.
Why Latino votes matter
Latino voters count for a lot. Three reasons: they’re a young population that is adding new voters at a staggering rate; They’re well-represented in so-called battleground states such as Colorado, Nevada and Florida; And close to two-thirds of Latinos are Mexicans or Mexican-Americans, who tend to be swing voters.
Latinos are now poised to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group to be eligible to vote in a presidential election, according to the Pew Research Center. By 2020, an estimated 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, which is just slightly more than the 30 million voters who are African-Americans. According to Pew, Latinos are expected to be about 13.3% of the electorate in 2020.
Here’s what you need to know about the Latino vote: there is no such thing. That is, Latinos aren’t monolithic and we don’t vote as a bloc.
Yet, Trump is likely to do better than expected with Latino voters.
It’s not just because of a strong economy, low unemployment rates among Latinos, etc. It’s also because many Latinos are willing to look past Trump’s anti-Latino bigotry. After all, they tell themselves, the president is not talking about people like them.
The problem is that, when it comes to Latinos, Trump can’t stop talking trash. Here’s a look at his rant sheet.
As a candidate, Trump declared that Mexico is “not sending their best” but ridding itself of those who are “bringing drugs…bringing crime,” labeled Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, promised to deport “bad hombres,” praised the 1954 mass deportation program called "Operation Wetback," promised a “deportation force,” and attacked the integrity of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel — a U.S.-born citizen of Mexican descent — by questioning whether Curiel could fairly adjudicate a lawsuit against Trump University because, “He’s a Mexican.”
As president, Trump pardoned Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio after the former lawman was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos and defying court orders, ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), "leaving" more than 700,000 young people potentially subject to deportation, targeted birthright citizenship for the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, embraced policies that would cut legal immigration in half and separated thousands of refugee families to the point where nearly 70,000 immigrant children were held in U.S. custody at some point in the last year.
Even as he campaigns for re-election, Trump still can’t seem to refrain from sticking his foot in this mouth when it comes to Latino voters.
Trump's own words used against his own citizens
He talks often about how the United States is facing an “invasion” from the south. That’s the same word that 21-year-old Patrick Crusius used in a racist manifesto he penned before walking into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas on Aug 3 to, as he allegedly told police, “kill as many Mexicans as possible.” Crucius killed 22 people, many of them Mexican and wounded 25 others.
Several weeks ago, when Trump traveled to New Mexico to court conservative Latinos, he doted on CNN commentator Steve Cortes, a pro-Trump immigrant from Colombia who the president declared “looks more like a WASP than I do.” Trump put Cortes on the spot, asking him, “Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?” Cortes answered “The country.”
Most of the Latinos who back Trump are not so buffoonish about their support. But they’re no less devoted to their guy.
As a Mexican-American Never Trumper, I wanted to understand these people. Besides, as a journalist who is trained to talk to strangers, the idea of Latinos who support Trump sounded plenty strange to me.
So, I went out and interviewed a couple dozen Latinos for Trump.
What I found is that, in many cases, these folks are not really Latino at all. They’re “post-Latino.” They see themselves as Americans. They’re ambivalent about their heritage, relatives, ancestors. They don’t take offense when Trump insults Mexican immigrants because — even for Mexican-Americans — they see the people he’s talking about as another species.
Consider the views of Chris Salcedo, a conservative Mexican-American radio host in Texas who bills himself as a “liberty loving Latino.”
“I’ve always resented the hell out of liberals, in the press and out of the press, who have said that I, because of my Latino surname, have anything in common with someone who is breaking into my country without our permission,” Salcedo told me. “When the president cracks down on illegal border crossings and human trafficking, I do not believe he’s attacking me — because I also want to stop those same things.”
I get it. But I also recognize a familiar song when I hear one. Other ethnic groups know this one by heart. The Irish, Italians and Jews all have people in their community who don’t identify with their heritage or who think they’re better than others in their tribe, when they’re really just better off. These are the folks who were born on third base but tell themselves they hit a triple.
Now some Latinos have found their way to Trump. Good for them. But make no mistake. In a larger sense, they’re lost.
Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and host of the daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation.” Follow him on Twitter: @RubenNavarrette