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Why Hispanics gave up on the Left Can conservatives win Latino support without Trump?

Credit: Getty


April 13, 2022   6 mins

For just over a month, America’s first Spanish-language conservative radio station has been trying to win over the country’s most-talked about political demographic: increasingly right-leaning Hispanics. It couldn’t have launched at a better time.

When asked about the inspiration behind Americano last month, two weeks after its first broadcast, CEO Ivan Garcia-Hidalgo cited the 2016 election, in which Trump made massive, surprising gains with Hispanics. Recent polling suggests that the rightward drift of the demographic, on which Trump capitalised, has continued since then. There is a growing audience of conservative Hispanics, Garcia-Hidalgo points out — and what they, and America, needed was a “Fox News in Spanish”.

The first evidence of this political shift was met with incredulity by both Left and Right. But those of us on the ground had known for some time that Hispanic-Americans were turning to the Republican Party in unprecedented numbers. In my working-class Miami neighbourhood, I consistently encountered enthusiastic Trumpists. Sure, Trump was always going to attract traditionally Right-leaning Cuban-Americans, but the fervour — and the youth — of his fanatics back in 2015 and 2016 hinted at the beginnings of a new political realignment. Trump’s unorthodox style and abrasive anti-elitist rhetoric had connected with working-class Hispanics. Friends and family who were previously apolitical or tepid independents with centrist leanings had surprisingly hopped on the Trump train.

Trump may be on the fringes again, but in 2020 he gained even more support among working-class Hispanics than he had in 2016. This was a result not purely of his own qualities: since his election, the Democratic Party had alienated another Hispanic demographic. The BLM riots of 2020 were incisive: after the fire and smoke had cleared, polling showed that Hispanics, traditionally law and order types, were against the protests and strongly rejected the Black Lives Matter organisation. At the same time, Democrats were demanding that regular Americans kneel at the altar of the new social justice religion. Many Hispanic-Americans who had previously considered themselves centrist Democrats were repelled.

They might previously have been turned off by Trump’s inflammatory language; now, they were even more turned off by the actual flames destroying American cities under the guise of wokeness. They might not have been Trump supporters in 2016, but they certainly had a rabid Trumpist tio or abuelo who was now pointing at the fires and looters and saying: “See, Trump was right. Democrats want to destroy America.” Hispanics didn’t wake up en masse, but the Right-wing shift became a phenomenon that wasn’t strictly driven by Hispanic Trump supporters.

According to Garcia-Hidalgo, “the only way to save America is with the Hispanic vote” — a  sly rhetorical move that subscribes his new network to the Trumpian view that America is under attack, while positioning patriotic Hispanics as the antidote. Garcia-Hidalgo understands that conservative Hispanics, even if they still have strong ties to their homelands, essentially identify as Americans above all else. Trump understood this, too, which is why some of his more “problematic” language directed at Hispanics — the “bad hombres” rhetoric — didn’t hurt his chances with the demographic. After all, conservative Hispanics, along with the white working-class, are the last group that is unironically patriotic.

Trump understood the power of culture war as a binding agent. While the Democrats’ socialism-tinged rhetoric became blatantly anti-American, he continued to offer an unabashedly pro-America shtick. Since many Hispanics have ties to failed socialist countries, their American dream is a simple one: they want to work hard, make some money, and be left alone in their free time. This sentiment is perhaps the greatest tenet of classic Americanism. Hispanics do not believe that the nation is illegitimate, undermined by “whiteness” or “cis heteronormativity”, or in need of a radical restructure.

The summer of 2020 may have solidified the Trump-triggered Hispanic rightward shift, but the Democratic response to the pandemic ensured its short-term viability. According to blue-state governors, it was okay to get fresh air only if you were marching for a liberal cause or torching a small business. After the riots subsided, schools remained closed, as did the small businesses left standing after the summer of BLM. All the while, Democrats elevated disconnected bureaucrats like Anthony Fauci to deity-status and robbed the little man of all agency. Working-class Hispanics, of course, were still carrying out their essential jobs throughout the entirety of the pandemic, connected to the physical reality that the laptop class had had the luxury of abandoning.

Still, now that lockdowns and mask mandates are subsiding, will the Republican’s Hispanic gains last? Outside of Trump — and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — no politician on the Right knows how to communicate effectively with Hispanics, which is why the long-term rightward shift is anything but a guarantee. Garcia-Hidalgo understands this reality, which is probably why he announced, on the Americano show “La Politica,” that presenter Maria Herrera Mellado will be interviewing Trump today.

Of course, the success of Americano isn’t tied to Trump, per say, and nor is the growing conservatism of Hispanics. Even if Trump doesn’t run again in 2024, there’s no doubt that a Trumpian “America first” sensibility plays well with Hispanics and must hold a significant role in any outlet — or movement — if the rightward shift is to continue.

The best way for the Republicans to sustain the rightward shift is to consolidate a fragmented Hispanic demographic. The same goes for Americano. Conservative Hispanics are accustomed to regional outlets catering to mostly localised obsessions: prior to the network’s inception, the Spanish-language news options available to them were regional outlets, like Miami’s Radio Mambi. These stations cultivate their audiences for decades, through a fine-tuned understanding of what their listeners’ desire, resulting in a family-like ecosystem in which listeners and commentators build decades-long relationships. They don’t individually pull in massive numbers, but overall listenership is in the millions.

It’s tempting for a network, or a Republican politician, based in Miami to focus on the concerns of Cuban-Americans — they, and the Mexican-Americans along the Rio Grande Valley, are the two Hispanic demographics usually cited when pundits speak of the rightward shift. But if the Right strictly focuses its efforts on the interests of these groups — which sometimes, but not always, dovetail — their rhetoric will be far too insular to reach a broad-based Hispanic coalition.

In my recent listens to Americano’s programming, it’s clear that the station is in Miami, but not of Miami, which bodes well for its future prospects. Instead of placing too much emphasis on a single Hispanic group, Americano is melding “America first” Trumpian Republicanism with the socially conservative elements that have traditionally appealed to disparate Hispanic demographics. For instance, on the night I caught the 8pm show “Entre Nosotras”, the three female presenters were joined by a former officer from the Phoenix PD to discuss the border crisis and the attendant drug scourge precipitated by President Biden’s porous border policy, which is causing a “domestic war”. The Trump-like takes on immigration — which are very popular with Hispanics — and the machinegun-like, emotionally charged delivery of the presenters will appeal to old-school talk radio veterans.

It’s worth noting, too, that many of the network’s stars — including the presenter who will interview Trump — are strong women, which highlights the savviness of the management. Recent polling has shown that Hispanic women have shifted to the Right more than any other demographic; a show that foregrounds educated Latinas is likely to be a hit. It’s also as fine a way as any to make a splash and draw in younger Hispanics, which will be the key to expanding the rightward shift and the station’s reach; younger Hispanics are still skewing progressive.

Meanwhile, Americano’s other programming, including the first show of the day, “Amanecer Con Dios” (Waking up with God), which is hosted by a priest, and “Sabor Caribeno,” which focuses on Dominican and Puerto Rican issues, speaks to a network attempting to attract disparate Hispanic elements.

The Trump campaign was likewise able to bring together the fragmented Right-wing Hispanic coalition. What’s most impressive is that the shift occurred without the help of major networks, which often serve as messaging apparatuses for the parties. In the lead up to 2020, the Trump campaign blitzed South Florida, the Texas Rio Grande Valley, and other Hispanic-heavy areas with targeted ads painting Democrats as light on crime socialists hellbent on reshaping America. But its project certainly would’ve been easier if a national Spanish-language network existed, which is why Americano’s appearance on the scene is such an interesting development. Whether or not it succeeds will reveal whether Trumpism can hold onto Hispanic voters who feel themselves drifting to the Right.

The Republican Party, then, should be watching the network’s fortunes closely. Even if Trump doesn’t run in 2024, his brand of Republicanism is so popular with Hispanics that it will play a crucial part in the election. Meanwhile, the budding Spanish-language media ecosystem can provide an insight into what the ascendant Hispanic-American conservative coalition desires — an insight the Democrats might benefit from, too.


Alex Perez is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Perez_Writes

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Jacob Smith
Jacob Smith
2 years ago

Since learning Spanish in Puerto Rico 26 years ago, virtually all my professional endeavors have involved working with Spanish-speaking immigrants to the US, primarily folks born in Mexico. I can tell you, once you get away from California, your typical 1st generation Latino immigrant is deeply conservative socially and moderately conservative fiscally as well. They believe in law and order, they don’t like welfare and they tend to be suspicious of big government programs. If the Republican party could push a proposal to reform the immigration laws in a way that recognizes the economic contributions of even low-skill laborer immigrants, while discouraging illegal entry? Well, that alone might be enough to convince millions and millions to change to the party that more closely aligns with their social and political leanings.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jacob Smith
Rose D
Rose D
2 years ago
Reply to  Jacob Smith

Agree. Fact is that it would be a waste of time to try and undo what has been done illegal immigration wise. It would be more efficient IMO to focus on winning over first and second generation Hispanic immigrants; giving states the authorities needed to (1) secure their own borders and (2) deport criminal illegal aliens should the feds fail to enforce existing and future laws; secure the border; and pass laws at the federal and state level that strongly deter further people from immigrating illegally.

Earl King
Earl King
2 years ago

Trump also made gains with Black Americans, the conservative ones. The Hispanic gains point to something people have known in the GOP but rarely acted on. Hispanics are culturally conservative. The believe in the Catholic Church, parenting, their children. Tell a Hispanic father you’re going to discuss you daughters vagina in 2nd Grade and tell her that while she may have a vagina she could be a boy if she wants too, the father is going to have problems. Big ones. Democrats have only themselves to blame. It is one thing to help a minority achieve acceptance in society it however is another thing to put Transgenderism on a pedestal. Democrats have gotten over their skies and they are going to be punished.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
2 years ago

“According to blue-state governors, it was okay to get fresh air only if you were marching for a liberal cause or torching a small business.” – the author kind of shows his bias there – but that is pretty funny.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago
Reply to  Gunner Myrtle

It’s funny because it’s true.

Douglas H
Douglas H
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

I think people everywhere were allowed to get fresh air?

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  Douglas H

My best friend’s daughter was confronted by police (and told to go home) for reading on an empty park bench on an empty high school campus. That sounds like serious restriction on the getting of fresh air.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago
Reply to  Douglas H

Well anecdotally I saw video of one person being arrested for sailboarding alone at sea..

James H Johnson
James H Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Kat L

The pandemic gave the world the opportunity to sample totalitarianism. We didn’t like it.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

That’s right – when ‘social distancing’ was a thing, BLM and leftist marchers were given a pass. Ditto masks.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Gunner Myrtle

Are simple facts biased?

Rose D
Rose D
2 years ago
Reply to  Gunner Myrtle

In what ways is that statement incorrect?

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
2 years ago

Yes the GOP has a big opportunity among many Hispanics and more than a few socially moderate Blacks. But the Democrats can always count on the Republicans to blow it. The GOP is institutionally incapable of the kind of changes they would need to make in ideology, policy, style, and funding base. They have long showed a preference for being the perpetual party in opposition, as long as the governing Democrats give them a slice of the pie. Trump was an exception and the GOP establishment hates him for it.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

If we voted in populists they could be routed.

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Correct. They prefer to be Vichy Republicans. That is why I registered as an NPA voter (in Florida). A two-party system is a zero sum game and I will vote Insane Clown Posse-R because it ensures Insane Clown Posse-D loses, though I support individuals like DeSantis.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ray Zacek
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Conservative parties everywhere should recognise (and most do to some extent) that immigrants have come for opportunities to better themselves, not to be passive welfare clients locked into their “community” and represented by mostly unelected political commissars, I mean “community leaders” , trying to lock votes in for left wing parties.

Kat L
Kat L
2 years ago

That’s difficult to prove. Some do for sure but how many is a mystery


Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
2 years ago

I think that depends upon the country they go to. Going to America, with a much smaller welfare system is definitely a place to go to where you have to take opportunities to better yourself (and not just for Hispanics) to survive well, in some parts of Europe the welfare system can be abused much more easily by immigrants – and is.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

“Umm they’re called Latinx now!” – Typical clueless progressive

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

It’s funny – IIRC Hispanic outrage at “white supremacy” and adoption of woke talking points is the dog that’s never barked. As far back as 2015 comments like “Mexico’s not sending its best, they’re bring drugs and crime, they’re rapists” were met with outrage among whites and the affluent but barely registered in Hispanic poll numbers – “yeah we know there are bad hombres in Mexico, that’s why we/our parents left!” And famously, virtually all of them hate the term Latinx. Encouraging trends!

Last edited 2 years ago by Tom Watson
kbrob77
kbrob77
2 years ago

Ronald Reagan said Hispanics are Rebublicans but don’t know it yet.

James H Johnson
James H Johnson
2 years ago

There is another element that should be recognized. Many if not most Hispanics are Christians and Roman Catholic. Those of us raised in the Catholic tradition are instinctively pro life, pro family and socially conservative. There is no confusion among Christians as to the morality of liberal immigration policy. In fact few Hispanics favor open borders as most see that as corrupting America.