The sad decline in race relations has focused, almost exclusively, on the age-old, and sadly growing, chasm between black and white. Yet this divide may prove far less important, particularly in this election, than the direction of the Latino community.
This may be the first election where Latinos, now the nation’s largest minority group, may directly alter the result, courtesy of the race baiting by GOP nominee Donald Trump. If the GOP chooses to follow his nativist pattern, it may be time to write off the Republican Party nationally, much as has already occurred in California.
Today, Latinos represent 17 percent of the nation’s population; by 2050, they will account for roughly one in four Americans. Their voting power, as the GOP is likely to learn, to its regret this year, is also growing steadily, to 12 percent of eligible voters this year, and an estimated 18 percent by 2028.
Political geography may prove as critical here as rising numbers. African Americans, for historic reason, are heavily concentrated in deep blue cities, simply padding already existing Democratic supermajorities, or in the deep red South, where they are overwhelmed by a conservative white majority. In contrast, Latinos represent a growing constituency in critical swing states such as Florida, where they constitute one-fifth of the electorate, as well Virginia, Nevada, Colorado and, thanks to the genius of Donald Trump, perhaps even Arizona.
The next African Americans or the new Italians?
Not even considered a separate racial group by the U.S. Census Bureau until 1970, Latinos encompass many cultures and racial backgrounds – from purely European to heavily Native American and African, with lots of mixing in between. Unlike African Americans, the Latino experience has not been forged by the crime of slavery, the primary source of our deep-seated racial discontent. Latinos either predated Anglos in Texas or the Southwest, or came here later to seek opportunity and improvement.
Latinos, then, are more akin to Italians, an ethnic group who also came to this country largely poor and undereducated, than to African Americans. Like Latinos today, 19th century Italians were not generally cast in a good light by the ruling establishment. The New York Times in 1875 labelled them unflatteringly as “the Chinese of Europe.” Like all groups, Italians had their share of bad apples – the Mafia, for starters – but most were hard-working, family people. Over the years, they have succeeded and become property owners. They are hardly monolithic politically, having produced such progressive icons as Mario Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as conservative heroes like Rudy Giuliani.
In contrast, African Americans have, arguably, to their disadvantage, become a political monolith, voting 90 percent Democratic in virtually every major election. Since Richard Nixon’s first race for the White House garnered 32 percent of the African American vote, no GOP presidential contender has won more the 15 percent, and in the Obama years it’s been less than half of that.
Latinos, at least pre-Trump, have been a contestable constituency. In 2004, Latino voters gave George W. Bush 40 percent of their votes. The GOP also has produced a strong group of Latino elected officials – Gov. Susan Martinez of New Mexico, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. On the state level, notably in Texas, the Latino vote has been highly contested; current Gov. Greg Abbott received 44 percent of Latino votes in his election victory over a white, pro-choice Democrat beloved by the party’s white liberal base.
What works after The Donald?
Even before Trump, the need for GOP candidates to pander to nativist sentiments damaged Republican credibility among Latinos. The GOP brand is now so tarnished that Trump may actually do as “well” – that is, roughly 25 percent – as did Mitt Romney. Over time, this is the kind of performance that assures political death.
Perhaps the most damaging long-term effect of Trumpism may be to drive Latinos to adopt the kind of racial identity politics already threatening to tear this republic apart. That African Americans have adopted this approach – which relies heavily on central government intervention to address serious problems – is understandable, given their historical experience. But whether this works for immigrants, whatever their ethnicity, and their children, is dubious.
Ironically, Latinos have tended to do better in those deep red states, notably Texas, where broad based economic growth – particularly in blue-collar fields like energy, home construction and manufacturing – has taken place. Overall, Latinos suffer less unemployment, and achieve higher rates of homeownership and business ownership, in the Lone Star State than in progressive California. To be sure, real poverty may afflict many Texas Latinos, as it does in California, particularly in rural areas, but they tend to have a smaller gap with whites than here in the Golden State, where, according to the United Ways of California, half of Latino households barely make enough to pay their basic expenses. In Los Angeles, the number rises to 54 percent.
Originally posted in the Orange County Register. To read the end of the article please go here.
Cross-posted at New Geography.