Will Hispanic conservatives transform US politics?

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

If you had to take a guess on which American political party would produce the first Mexican-born Congresswoman, which one would it be? The Democrats? Or the party of Donald Trump? As though to prove that nothing in American politics today is predictable, it is indeed the latter. Two weeks ago Mayra Flores flipped a Democrat-friendly Texas Congressional seat in a special election and became both the first Republican Latina representative from the state of Texas and the first Mexican-born member of the House. She even thanked Trump for her victory.

Everything about her win bucks the expectations of the country that now exist outside its borders. For instance, consider the campaign against her. For the foreign press, the Democrat party is presumed to be the party of anti-racism, right? The party that wouldn’t fall into any nativist traps and start talking about ‘us and them’? Well, here is what Flores’s Democrat opponent in the upcoming November elections said about her last week. In an interview, Vicente Gonzalez attacked Flores for being a ‘pawn’ of the Republican party. ‘I wasn’t born in Mexico,’ he said. ‘I was born in South Texas, the son of a Korean war veteran. I didn’t come here through chain migration. I didn’t come through asylum, or amnesty, or whatever,’ he continued.

The message from Gonzalez is clear. He is the real American. Flores, by contrast, is a foreign interloper: one of these terrible migrants we hear so much about. It is a curious line of attack for a Democrat to take. Not least under a government which is allowing almost a quarter of a million illegal migrants to cross the southern border every month. What exactly is the Democrats’ thinking here?

Whatever it is, Flores and a new generation of Republican politicians like her keep showing up the deepest presumptions of the Democrat party. Because over recent decades, the American left have, like their counterparts in the UK, taken it for granted that migrants would be theirs by right. They have taken it as read that when people come to America they will listen to the closed-borders rhetoric of Trump and other Republicans vs the open borders rhetoric of the Democrat party, and find their natural political home amid the latter.

But, again as in Britain, no such presumption can be made. First because there is considerable anger among those who made it to America through a legal route when they see millions of people attempting to enter the country each year through illegal routes. Anybody who has gone through the labyrinthine, exhausting, often demoralising process of trying to legalise in the United States cannot but have a sense of injustice that there are people who are able to skip the queue and come into the country illegally. What is more, far more than in the UK, there is a sense that if you have made it to the country legally then you are absolutely in, and one of the family. Without needing to hate them, or look down on them, the people who break into the country break a part of that familial pact.

And then there is the fact that many immigrants to the US are inherently conservative in at least some of their fiscal and social habits. For example, many migrants from Central and South America are – like Flores – highly family-orientated. This was highlighted this week when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on stage with Flores and her young family at Flores’s swearing-in ceremony. The sharp-elbowed Pelosi was caught by the cameras literally elbowing Flores’s young daughter aside in order to place herself more centrally in the picture. Flores Jr held her ground and her mother praised her little ‘queen’ for doing so. ‘I saw it afterwards and yes, I was very disappointed and very disgusted by it. No child should be pushed aside for a photo,’ she said.

The other thing that many migrants to America also have is a strong work ethic, motivated by a sense that if you work hard in America you can still get ahead. The Democrat party tells ethnic minorities that however hard they work, they will be held back by systemic racism and other bogeymen. Whether or not this is the case with black Americans (and there is much to say about that) there is no reason why it should be the case for Hispanic Americans and others. Indeed Hispanic Americans already outperform black Americans and are steadily catching up with white Americans in average household income.

This is starting to show at the polls. In 2004 Hispanic Americans accounted for around 8 per cent of the vote. In 2050 they are projected to make up 29 per cent. So the future of American politics will be very much decided by this core demographic.

Again, outside of America there is a simplistic presumption that the rhetoric of Trump about some Mexicans must make all Hispanics regard the Republican party as their opponent. But the polls simply don’t back that up. In 2016 Trump won 29 per cent of the Hispanic vote. In 2020 he won 32 per cent. Trump grew the Republicans’ share of the black vote in the same way. In fact the only racial group among whom Trump’s popularity declined between 2016 and 2020 was the white male vote – a polling data point that positively reeks of the truth.

Whoever their candidate, if the Republican party keeps growing its share of the Hispanic vote then it could upend one of the biggest presumptions in American politics. Another Republican Representative, Maria Salazar, made this point herself in a recent interview. Mexicans, Cubans and others should obviously be welcomed into the Republican party, she said, because these people ‘have the same values as those entrenched in the Republican party’.

It is true. For as the Democrats stampeded to the left, with progressive politics, identity politics and more, they began to irritate some of the most basic beliefs of people they took to be their base. Whatever her own success, or her own record, Flores is an expression of a deeper trend. The Democrats took a lot for granted. They shouldn’t be surprised if the people they took for granted now start to elbow them off the stage in turn.

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