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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Biden has lost Latino support — now he could lose election

With the 2024 election less than a year away, President Joe Biden’s standing with Latino voters is not as bad as people say. It’s worse.

In a recent swing-state poll from The New York Times and Siena College, 58 percent of Latinos said the country is headed in the “wrong direction,” while only 30 percent said it is on the “right track.” The choice between Biden and Donald Trump was nearly a toss-up, with 50 percent of Latinos supporting Biden and 42 percent backing Trump.

Those findings were consistent with earlier surveys. A September poll by Univision found that, in a Biden-Trump rematch, Biden would have the support of only 58 percent of Latino voters.

Latino voters are unpredictable, complex and independent-minded. The Univision poll found that their top concerns are gun violence, health care, inflation, climate change and border security. They still lean Democratic, but they reserve the right to stay home and not vote at all if they think an elected official doesn’t have their backs.

According to the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, the 16.6 million Latinos who voted in the 2020 election represented an increase of 30.9 percent over the 2016 turnout (compared with a 15.9 percent increase among voters overall).

Moreover, Latino voters make up about 14.3 percent of the U.S. electorate, but they account for as much as 32 percent of the electorates in the two states with the largest number of electoral votes: Texas and California. They also represent a sizable chunk of the electorates in a pair of battleground states that are expected to help decide next year’s election: Arizona (where Latinos are 25 percent of the electorate) and Nevada (21 percent).

So it matters — a lot — that Biden is foundering with Latino voters.

What my Latino friends tell me is that Biden is too old to run again and that he seems frail and not up to the job. They also think he hasn’t been competent in dealing with the economy or consistent in his policies on immigration — promising to eliminate Trump’s hard-line border policies when running for president and then adopting them once in office. In fact, Biden recently announced that he is building a new section of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Just like his predecessor.

Meanwhile, Trump must see a chance to improve his standing with Latinos, and he’s taking advantage. As counterprogramming for last week’s Republican presidential debate in Miami, he held a rally nearby in the heavily Cuban city of Hialeah. Trump has done surprisingly well with Latinos; some polls put his share of the Latino vote in 2020 as high as 38 percent.

But there is hope for Biden. It’s called the GOP. When the subject turns to the U.S.-Mexico border, Republicans can be counted on to say and do all the wrong things.

At last week’s GOP debate, Vivek Ramaswamy took a question about the Middle East and weaponized it to attack Mexico. Ramaswamy said that, if elected president, he would tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “smoke those terrorists on his southern border,” and, he vowed, “I’ll be smoking the terrorists on our southern border.”

For sure, this guy is smoking something. If Ramaswamy ever visited the border, it’s likely he wouldn’t see terrorists who aim to do us harm. But he would find plenty of migrants and refugees who want to do our chores.

How sad that this graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School isn’t smart enough to see the importance of not alienating neighbors such as Mexico.

I’m sure they love Ramaswamy at the White House. He is the Democrats’ favorite kind of Republican: ignorant and incendiary.

Of course, you could say the same about Trump, but — with Latino voters, as with many in the mainstream — those traits don’t hurt him.

And Trump has often been disrespectful to Latinos. That should count against him. But he gets away with it.

Respect is sacred for Latinos, and politicians who forget that — whether they’re condescending Democrats or fearmongering Republicans — get walloped at the ballot box. Latinos usually have to choose between the party that disrespects them by demonizing them and the one that disrespects them by taking them for granted.

Latinos are badly served by both political parties, which seem on track to offer the country what the vast majority of Americans do not want: a rematch of the 2020 presidential race.

Biden vs. Trump, Part II? Haven’t Latinos in America suffered enough?

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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