Trump's Latino gains suggest a key progressive theory of politics is wrong

White backlash or education polarization?

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their widely-cited Trump book write, for example, that: “To advance an unpopular plutocratic agenda, Republicans have escalated white backlash — and, increasingly, undermined democracy. In the United States, then, plutocracy and right-wing populism have not been opposing forces. Instead, they have been locked in a doom loop of escalating extremism that must be disrupted.”

Progressives spent the Trump years telling themselves that this is what they were up against. Jonathan Capehart watched a Republican National Convention that went out of its way to highlight Black and Latino speakers and proclaimed it “a permission structure for squeamish White voters to pull the lever again for Trump.”

Would it work? He said he wasn’t sure: “I doubted the power of white supremacy on White Americans in 2016. I won’t make that mistake again. And neither should you.”

What’s the matter with Florida?

If you just look at the states that border the Great Lakes, this narrative makes sense. But remember we started here with Florida, a state that was a classic bellwether in the first four elections of the 21st century. But by 2020, Trump does five points better in Florida than he does nationally — barely closer than Texas.

White racism can obviously be a factor in Florida politics (they had slaves, they seceded from the Union, they had Jim Crow) but it seems like a slightly odd Ground Zero for white backlash politics. Florida is 22 percent Black (very slightly higher than Virginia), three percent Asian, and a whopping 30 percent Hispanic. A political party that not only relies on white racism for votes but is increasingly reliant on an exclusionary vision of America as a white man’s country should be having big problems with Florida.

But of course, that’s not the case. Trump did well with Florida Latinos. And while an initial view saw that as perhaps limited to Cuban-Americans or maybe Cubans and Venezuelans, it’s clear that he in fact did well with Latinos all up and down the state. And in fact, Trump’s gains with Latinos were shockingly widespread across the country. Here are some data points Enten assembled:

  • Trump did 19 points better in Lawrence, MA.

  • He did 16 points better in the South Bronx NY-15 House seat.

  • He did 11 points better in Chicago’s 22nd Ward.

  • He did 18 points better in Imperial County, California.

These gains are broad and wide. And they suggest that while particular observations about Cuban-American outreach or courting the “Tejano vote” in South Texas are interesting, they don’t really explain the trend. It’s true, as all the Latino politics people say, that the Latino vote is not monolithic. But what’s striking about Trump’s gains is that they appear to be present in Mexican-American and Puerto Rican areas as well as Cuban or South Americans. And they are present in urban communities as well as rural ones.

Perhaps most important of all, the trend is clearly present not just in heavily contested swing states but in deep blue ones too. That’s important because it suggests that the causal factor is not a technical aspect of campaign artistry but broad public response to the messages people were hearing.

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