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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Win, lose, or draw, politics never works out for Latinos

In his haunting ballad “The Wrestler,” Bruce Springsteen tells the story of a down-and-out professional fighter who always comes up short.

“You’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door,” says the wrestler. “You’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before.”

Now you see Latino voters. We supposedly have all this power. Yet we always seem to leave the political arena with less than we had before.

Yes, a week after the 2020 election, we’re still talking about the Latino vote. Of course, some folks say there is no such thing as the “Latino vote” because, this time, the results were such a mixed bag.

Wrong. There is no “Latino bloc.” But there is still a Latino vote. Just like there’s a youth vote, rural vote, Jewish vote or suburban women’s vote. People in those groups cast ballots. We analyze them. That’s the vote. The people don’t have to agree for their votes to tell us something.

Same with Latinos, whose votes in this election told us a lot.

For one thing, we had the most eligible voters of any racial or ethnic minority in U.S. history. As many as 32 million Latinos were eligible to vote. According to exit polls, about 20 million exercised the franchise.

For another, Latino voters were an asset to both camps. We played a big role in delivering Nevada and Arizona to President-elect Joe Biden, and we helped keep Texas competitive. Latinos also helped Biden win Georgia, which is about 10 percent Latino.

Yet, Latinos also helped Trump. They made it possible for him to win Florida with overwhelming support from Cubans, Colombians and Venezuelans. They also helped him scratch out a victory in Texas thanks to a significant number of defections of Mexican Americans in the Rio Grande Valley, which cradles the U.S.-Mexico border and normally elects Democrats.

Still, while voting is important and can bring change, the game of politics rarely pays off for Latinos.

Sometimes we back the losing candidate. Or we’re taken for granted by Democrats and written off by Republicans. Or we don’t split our votes. Or we do split our votes and get attacked — even insulted — by both camps.

With the 2020 election behind us, insults are flying in both directions.

On the right, white conservatives such as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and radio host Ben Shapiro insist that as many as 33 percent to 36 percent of Latinos appear to have voted for Trump, so this must mean that Trump isn’t really racist toward Mexicans. And, conservatives submit, all those votes from Latinos for Trump were also votes against illegal immigration.

Trouble is, Biden also opposes illegal immigration and helped President Barack Obama deport 3 million people. While in the Senate, Biden also voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized the building of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

On the left, many white liberals claim that Cuban Americans in Florida backed Trump because they were gullible enough to fall for conspiracy theories suggesting that Biden was a socialist. In the Southwest, meanwhile, the fact that millions of Mexican Americans voted for Trump is often shrugged off because of the so-called diploma divide. Mexican Americans who graduated from college voted for Biden, we’re told, and those who don’t have a degree supported Trump. Same as with white voters, according to polls. Simple.

It’s not that simple. I know many Latinos with college degrees who voted for Trump. A Mexican American friend of mine with three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology voted for Trump. It takes gall to be that condescending toward people of a different ethnicity.

Latinos are good at a lot of things. We excel at working hard, raising families, starting small businesses and caring for our elderly. But we’re lousy at politics. We always leave with less than we had before. Even when we are on the winning team, we feel like we’ve lost. At the moment, we’re blaming each other for voting the wrong way, and we’re being chided by both parties for not throwing more votes in their direction.

In his victory speech, Biden thanked African Americans for standing by him, but he didn’t mention Latinos. Maybe that’s because it’s so hard to figure out where we stand, or because so many of us stood with Trump.

Now, more divided than ever, Latinos are saddled with a president who doesn’t know them and doesn’t owe them.

Compadres, are we winning yet?

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

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