As Joe Biden does a fine job of losing Latino voters, Donald Trump—who never met a Latino he didn’t bash—is poised to scoop them up.
The Democratic nominee could surrender as much as a third of the Latino vote. Depending on turnout, that could be enough to cost Biden the election and ensure that the nightmare of the Trump presidency continues for another four years.
Heckuva job, Joe.
The majority of Latinos have voted for the Democrat in 15 straight presidential elections, dating back to the "Viva Kennedy” clubs of 1960.
So when we’re talking about how GOP presidential hopefuls perform with Latinos, 30 percent makes for a decent finish, 33 percent is a strong showing, and 35 percent is a disaster for Democrats.
The Republicans’ low point came in 1996, when Bob Dole received just 21 percent of the Latino vote. The high point was in 2004 when George W. Bush gobbled up 44 percent of the Latino vote.
Most of the time, Republican candidates show up in the twenties. Mitt Romney in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016 both got 28 percent—but it’s hard to find a political observer this year who doesn’t think that Trump will improve on that figure.
One big reason why is that Biden is just so inept when it comes to Latino outreach.
That was on full display this week when the former vice president kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept 15 to Oct 15, by traveling to the battleground state of Florida. Recent polls show Biden tied with Trump overall, and trailing among Latino voters.
It’s too much to ask that Biden make Latinos swoon. But could he at least not make us cringe? As the Democratic nominee stepped to the podium, and got ready to tell Latinos why they’d be better off with him in the White House as opposed to Trump, Biden pulled out his cellphone and played the song that Justin Bieber made into the official anthem of cultural appropriation: “Despacito”.
Never mind that the song's Puerto Rican creator, Luis Fonsi, was there to introduce the nominee. Out here in the Southwest, which is ground zero for the Mexicans and Mexican Americans who make up more than 60 percent of the Latino population in the United States, if we catch anyone listening to “Despacito," we curse him as a sin vergüenza (someone without shame) and make him turn in his membership card.
Now, the gato is out of the bag.
For the last few days, one national East Coast media outlet after another has miraculously discovered what I wrote about back in May: Biden has a Latino problem, and it’s muy grande.
I blame a lot of Biden’s blind spot with Latinos on geography. As a native of Pennsylvania, a resident of Delaware, and a fixture of Washington, D.C., the Democratic nominee has spent his life in places where you don't find many Latinos.
Then consider Biden’s record of service at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I challenge any Democrat, anywhere in America, to name three bills that Biden authored in his 36 years in the Senate that specifically benefited Latinos. However, he did spend much of the last quarter century proudly bragging about how he was the architect of what is officially referred to as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Biden likes to call it “the Biden Bill.”
Many of those who have spent their lives trying to reform the criminal justice system consider the 1994 crime bill to be a racist and vindictive piece of legislation that helped ignite the phenomenon of mass incarceration of Black men—but also Latinos.
Then, when Biden left the Senate and moved to the executive branch to serve as vice president, he wound up second-in-command to President Obama, the most anti-Latino president since Dwight Eisenhower herded Mexican immigrants and Mexican American U.S. citizens onto railroad cars and deported them to Mexico in 1953’s Operation Wetback. As some of Biden’s opponents for the 2020 Democratic nomination were quick to remind him, Obama deported 3 million people, separated families, and put refugee kids in cages—before the liberal media decided this kind of behavior was shameful when Trump ramped it up.
Blend it all together, and Trump is on track to win a third of the Latino vote, which would be a 5-point improvement on his 2016 showing.
The fact that Trump got 28 percent was astounding to many political observers—including me—given that Trump launched his first presidential campaign by calling my Mexican grandfather (who came to the United States legally during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s) a rapist, criminal, and drug trafficker.
It’s like there’s this music playing with Latino voters, and Biden can’t hear the tune. He doesn’t know the first thing about us, who we are, what we stand for, or what we expect from a president. Worse, he’s not the least bit curious to find out.
Of course, Biden is not the only Democrat to ever run for president in the last 60 years whose outreach efforts to Latinos were a taco short of a combination plate.
Democrats don’t think much about Latinos because they assume they have them locked up. They think about the voters that are getting away: suburban white women, and working-class white tradesmen in the industrial Rust Belt states.
You know who thinks about Latinos a lot? Republicans, because they also have a Latino problem stemming from the fact that so many of them can’t stop saying and doing the wrong thing—and sometimes even the racist thing—when discussing issues that impact Latinos like immigration, police violence and affirmative action.
It’s tempting to say that Biden made the first move, or didn’t make the right move, and this is what gave Trump an opening to go after a dependably Democratic constituency.
Not so. Way back in February 2019, two months before Joe Biden entered the 2020 presidential election, Trump was already signaling that he planned to go after a bigger chunk of the Latino vote than he got in 2016.
When I say "Latinos," I'm talking primarily about Mexicans and Mexican Americans who, again, make up the vast majority of the estimated 59 million people in the United States who trace their ancestry to Latin America. These people represent the Latino "swing vote.” Politically, they matter more than other kinds of Latinos because they’re the ones who are in play from one election year to the next.
Republicans usually do well with anti-socialist Latino conservatives—Cubans, Venezuelans and Colombians. Democrats have a lock on the Latino liberals—Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Central Americans.
But Mexicans and Mexican Americans are often up for grabs. We’re basically conservative, especially on social issues. But we’re also more likely to register as Democrat than Republican—by a two-to-one margin—even though we have shown a willingness to support moderate Republicans who don’t piss us off.
Granted, these days, those Republicans are tough to find. We’re something that used to be called conservative Democrats. And, in every presidential election, the “conservative” and “Democrat” end up in a tug-of-war.
One more thing about Mexicans and Mexican Americans: We worship at the altar of memory. We don’t forget anything.
The bad news for Trump is that we’re not going to forget how he is always on our case. But the bad news for Biden is that we also haven’t forgotten how he has never been in our corner.
For Latinos, the 2020 election is a choice of the lesser evil. Trouble is, the hour is late and many of us still can’t tell which evil is lesser.