Trump Aside, Why Do Latinos Flirt with Republicans?

Perhaps the media is misconstruing the true pulse of the Latinos when it discusses the possibility of Latinos being turned off by the Republican Party because of Trump rather than being turned off because the party has a long history of anti-Latino politics and policies.
09/28/2015 07:16 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"A guest sees more in an hour than the host in a year." - Anonymous

Long before Donald Trump, there was a sordid history of discrimination against Latinos in states that now form the base of the Republican Party. So rampant was discrimination against Latinos at the polls that Congress in 1975 added language minorities to the protections of the federal Voting Rights Act. That discrimination remains today. In Texas, a federal court of appeals recently concluded that the state's voter ID law inflicts disparate harm on blacks and Latinos. The United States Supreme Court had earlier found that Texas intentionally attempted to dilute Latino voting strength. In Arizona, Republicans implemented a "papers-please" law that empowered police officers to determine the immigration status of a detainee if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the detainee is an illegal alien. A similar law in Alabama led to the arrest of a Mercedes-Benz executive in that state on business. Not coincidentally, in the southern and southwestern states that now dominate the Republican Party, opinion polls reveal the most hostility towards immigrants.

Before Trump, there was also former Republican Governor Pete Wilson of California. In the 1990s, Wilson successfully championed Proposition 187, which sought to prevent delivery of social services to illegal immigrants through a draconian reporting and verification regime. Fast-forward to 2012, when the Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney advocated that illegal immigrants "self-deport," and it should be no surprise that in the current presidential primary contest the most offensive and voluble opponent of (Latino) illegal immigration, Trump, is also the frontrunner among Republicans.

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What is surprising, however, are the portrayals of Latinos as a swing vote that might well consider the Republican nominee but for Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and his opponents' acquiescence. The Republicans' long history of racializing Latinos and discriminating against them gets ignored in this narrative. Whom Jeb Bush is married to and his ability to speak perfect Spanish are portrayed as more important than his opposition to affirmative action, to the Affordable Care Act, or to a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants -- all positions that have a disproportionately adverse impact on Latinos. Aided and abetted by a media bent on a horse race, this portrayal is as insulting as the suggestion that black voters support President Obama because of his race rather than his views. (Substitute Obama with Dr. Ben Carson, who is also black, and see how few black votes Carson receives.)

Perhaps the media is misconstruing the true pulse of the Latinos when it discusses the possibility of Latinos being turned off by the Republican Party because of Trump rather than being turned off because the party has a long history of anti-Latino politics and policies. Yet various Latino leaders and spokespersons for Latino civic organizations are also complicit in this portrayal. Each election cycle they promote the Latino vote as being "up for grabs," notwithstanding the relatively consistent support that Latinos have given the Democratic Party since the 1980s. There are various reasons for this complicity, including the attempt to distinguish Latinos, many of whom are black, from African-American voters, who are portrayed as captives of the Democratic Party.

Caught between anti-black rhetoric of Republican stalwarts Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and the half-heartedness of the Democratic Party, African Americans have largely joined and sought to reshape the latter. Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was for blacks what Republicans' opposition to a path to citizenship is for many Latinos. Reagan's rhetoric against "welfare queens" was as appalling to blacks as Trump's reference to Latinos as "rapists" is to Latinos. African-American voters have learned that a party with such a sorry modern history is not one deserving of reconsideration every election cycle when little has changed about its fundamental attitude towards people of color.

By now, Latinos know as much about the shameful underbelly of the Republican Party as does the guest about his host. With the rise of Trump, perhaps they've seen enough to part ways.