January 8, 2024 - 12:45pm

Last November, Donald Trump held a rally in the majority-Hispanic Florida suburb of Hialeah, near Miami. The event drew thousands of supporters and upstaged the nearby Republican debate — to the chagrin of Trump’s less popular primary opponents. “We’re so humbled that he picked Hialeah to do this rally, because Hialeah loves Donald Trump,” said Mayor Esteban “Steve” Bovo, hours before the former president took to the stage.

Cuban-Americans have long been regarded as fairly reliable Republican voters, but it appears as though Latinos more generally are following suit. A recent poll from USA Today found that Trump had a five-point lead over Biden among Latino voters ahead of this year’s elections. What explains the increasing appeal of the former president, who once called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals”, to this growing demographic?

Such have been the inroads made by Trump that he has significantly narrowed the margin in traditionally Democratic areas like South Texas, Maricopa County, Arizona and Peterson County, New JerseyAmong the reasons for GOP over-performance in these areas and beyond is the increased share of arrivals in recent years from nations ravaged by Leftist leaders, such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Trump’s hawkishness against this “troika of tyranny” has therefore won approval from Latin Americans who fear the radical Left. This is especially salient among Cuban-Americans, who have an expedited path to US citizenship under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Some may argue that these examples as testament to the diversity of Hispanic communities, but this ignores the key commonalities among US Latinos. For instance, Hispanics of all stripes are generally more religious and socially conservative than their Caucasian counterparts. Rates of church attendance are appreciably higher than those among white Americans, and just 37% agree that same-sex marriage is somewhat or very good for society. The Christian zeal of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” played well with Latinos at the time; as only the second Catholic to ever occupy the White House, Biden would do well to play up his piety among Hispanics.

Even on immigration, Latinos are far more conservative than many Democrats care to recognise. The mostly Mexican-American communities of border regions in states such as Arizona and Texas have grown markedly — and understandably — wary of uncontrolled immigration. A poll from the LIBRE Institute found that 65% of Latinos backed entirely stopping the flow of illegal immigration at the southern border. At the same time, 82% supported providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and Daca recipients who came to the US as children — a figure in keeping with the broader population.

There is also an often overlooked element of Trump’s appeal to Latinos: he resembles a Latin American president. Whether on the Left or on the Right, Latin America is infamous for its outsiders and populists. Stylistically, Trump’s rhetoric against elites, lawfare, the media and globalists is not unlike that championed by Hugo Chávez or Cristina Kirchner. Indeed, the former president’s unlikely friendship with Mexico’s arch-populist President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), has clearly raised his standing with Mexican-Americans. In turn, the Mexican leader has not been shy in his support for Trump in 2024, calling his counterpart’s ongoing legal troubles “political persecution”.

Though many of Trump’s views on trade and foreign policy are closer to the Latin American Left than the Right, his defining characteristic — as with most Latin American conservatives — is that he is a businessman. Of the 26 conservative leaders elected in the region since 2000, 15 have been professional businessmen. Appropriately, surveys of US Latinos consistently refer to Trump’s entrepreneurial background and credit his business acumen for his handling of the economy.

In short, there are both idiosyncratic and broader reasons for Trump’s relative success among Latinos. Yet, in the current climate, it’s quite possible that neither he nor Biden stand to win a majority of the American electorate in 2024 — let alone the Latino vote. In what is certain to be yet another close election, the Latino vote may just make the difference.