weather icon Clear

RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Latino voters stage their own November surprise

Que pasa with Latino voters? What’s behind their unexpected — and frightening — lurch toward President Donald Trump in the 2020 election? I can’t figure out if it’s exciting or embarrassing. Maybe both.

Exit polls from The Washington Post found that Trump got 33 percent of the Latino vote. Another exit survey from The New York Times put the figure as high as 36 percent.

And this was a national phenomenon, not a regional one. Trump pulled Latino support in south Florida, but also in south Texas, central Arizona, south New Mexico and central California. He got 33 percent of the Latino vote in Arizona, according to the Post. And he got 40 percent of the Latino vote in Texas, according to the Times.

Then came Florida, where — according to NBC News — Trump won the votes of about 55 percent of the state’s Cuban Americans, along with 30 percent of Puerto Ricans and 48 percent of “other Latinos” (read: Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Colombians).

Democrats, you have a problema. On election night, former Vice President Joe Biden bled Latino support all over the place. Even though, oddly enough, Biden also owes his apparent victories in Arizona and Nevada to strong Latino support there.

How can both of these things be true? Easy. The majority of Latinos have voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential contest since 1960. That a majority of them would vote for Biden was never in doubt. He started with a huge advantage with those voters. But Biden had to not give up too much of the Latino vote to Trump. Anything north of 30 percent is too much. So, when it comes to Latino voters, Biden won some battles, but he may have lost the war.

Biden and Latinos don’t click. According to the polls taken during the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro all did better with Latinos than Biden did. That ambivalence by Latinos toward the favorite son of Scranton, Pennsylvania, carried over to the general election.

I’d like to think that many Latinos still hold a grudge over the fact that Biden was the accomplice of a Democratic president — Barack Obama — who deported 3 million people, separated families and put kids in cages back when Trump was a reality TV star. That Biden had such a spotty history on immigration — and, in fact, told an activist who confronted him on the trail to “vote for Trump” — took the sting out of the accusation that Trump was anti-immigrant. It turns out that, these days, most presidents are anti-immigrant.

I know all about the tribe of Latino voters. I’ve been a Latino voter myself since 1988, when I cast my first presidential ballot for Michael Dukakis over George H. W. Bush. We’re stubborn, unpredictable, complicated and independent. We go our own way and we don’t like being told what to do, or who to vote for — especially by people who don’t know anything about us or care what happens to us.

Moreover, many Latinos consider themselves American first, and so they were as susceptible to Trump’s pied piper routine as working-class whites in the Rust Belt. Latinos don’t care much for Mexican immigrants, and they can be as nativist as the worst racist in the GOP. They vote on the economy, jobs, health care, law and order and — this year — on the coronavirus. Not on immigration.

Even so, Latinos for Trump? Seriously? How often do the tormented fall in love with their tormentor? Have some self-respect. I realize Mexicans have very little in common with folks in Sweden, but this looks like our own bizarre version of Stockholm syndrome. And while Latinos aren’t being held hostage by Trump, they are routinely insulted, demonized and marginalized by him.

All to score points with white voters who think the United States is being invaded by people of inferior stock. What an original idea that is. Benjamin Franklin said much the same thing about the German immigrants who streamed into Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s.

Franklin had nothing to worry about. And neither do the white voters that form Trump’s base. Latinos come in peace, except for those who have been here all along and welcomed your ancestors.

If anyone should be worried, given how Latinos performed in this election, it’s the Democratic Party.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
LETTER: A balanced approach on the energy transition

We will never be free of fossil fuels. A balanced approach is needed. Politically doctrinaire positions on both sides won’t help us resolve the current problems.

LETTER: Up, up and away

I contend that the gas produced by the City Council is worse than anything the common folk could ever think of.