Posted on November 3, 2020

What Liberals Don’t Understand About Pro-Trump Latinos

Christian Paz, The Atlantic, October 29, 2020

Abraham Enriquez speaks with the clarity of a levelheaded TV anchor. {snip}When we talked recently about the state of American politics, I recognized the air of authority I had heard in clips of his eponymous web show and his public speeches rallying Latinos in Texas to vote—for Donald Trump.

Enriquez is one of millions of Latinos who will (or already have) cast a ballot for Trump this year. Nearly a third of Latinos routinely vote for Republicans in American elections, and the Trump campaign’s appeals to them show an understanding of their unique worldview, one rooted in deeply held beliefs about individualism, economic opportunity, and traditional social values. Across nationality, class, immigrant experience, and age, Trump-voting Latinos have one thing in common: a different vision from other Latinos of what it means to be American—and they believe their liberal counterparts and the broader public just don’t understand that.


Liberals may accuse these Latinos of voting against their own interests, given Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and restrictions on immigration—all issues that affect millions of Latino lives. But many pro-Trump Latinos told me they simply define their interests differently than their more progressive cousins do. They don’t necessarily feel solidarity with Latinos as a whole, and many identify themselves as American first. (Some reject “Latino” or “Latinx” labels as well.) Many are lifelong Republicans not eager to abandon their party, and Trump’s economy-first message and opposition to abortion rights resonate with them. Democrats shouldn’t be surprised if Trump matches or improves on his 2016 showing among Latinos on November 3, or if their votes help him hold battleground states such as Arizona and Florida. Republican Latinos have always existed, and the Trump campaign has dedicated significant resources to winning over more of the Hispanic community this election cycle.

Election-year conversations tend to flatten voters into stereotypes, but there is no one kind of Latino voter: They aren’t all of Mexican or Cuban descent, nor are they all Catholic or connected by a shared immigrant experience—even though these subgroups dominate national attention. Though 60 to 70 percent vote for Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center, Latinos aren’t a reliably partisan voting bloc and need to be persuaded, in culturally competent ways, to vote. Their differences in national identity, immigrant background, experiences with discrimination, and religious beliefs make Latinos just as complicated as any other demographic group, though they aren’t always portrayed that way.

Take immigration, an issue commonly identified as the central Latino priority because many Americans assume that all Latinos hold the same pro-immigration view. The first time Enriquez heard Trump speak about politics was during the future president’s campaign-launch speech in 2015, when he said Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime.” Enriquez told me he could forgive the president’s comments. “I know exactly the status of Mexico, and how crime has completely just taken over the beautiful country that is Mexico. So when President Trump was talking about what Mexico is sending, I immediately knew—I understood [what he meant],” Enriquez said. “Did he word it correctly? No, but he did emphasize that, you know, it wasn’t all Mexicans.” {snip}

Some pro-Trump Latinos told me they understand why immigrants seek new lives in America, but they want them to come to this country “the right way.” They don’t necessarily identify with the plight of Latin American immigrants today. “You can’t really compare immigration in 2020 or 2016 to immigration like when my grandparents immigrated to America,” Enriquez said. Some support Trump’s border wall, some support limits on immigration generally, but almost all pivoted to the economy when the subject came up, arguing that unregulated immigration could have a negative effect on their own well-being.

“We recognize that open borders would not be good for the economy, for our families,” Ray Baca, the founder of the El Paso–based activist group Border Hispanics for Trump, told me. “Illegal immigration hurts employment as far as wages are concerned. And who are the people that get hurt? People at the bottom … and many times that is still the Hispanics.”


Enriquez noted that young U.S.-born Latinos find messages centered on economic mobility and entrepreneurship especially appealing. Indeed, Trump’s pitch seems to be working for a subset of U.S.-born Mexican American men, which recent polling suggests would especially help the president in the Sun Belt. Overall, Trump is attracting higher levels of support among Latino men in swing states than he did in 2016.


On the socialism issue and others, my conversations with pro-Trump Latinos revealed the disconnect between how they see the president and how liberals see them: They don’t care if the president speaks harshly about immigration, because they support stronger efforts to regulate it and secure America’s borders. They don’t blame Trump for his own personal shortcomings, because he advances social-conservative priorities by appointing conservative jurists and condemning abortion. They don’t worry too much about systemic racism, because they think individuals should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take personal responsibility for their circumstances. And they don’t think the president is racist; indeed, they repeat his rhetoric about Black Lives Matter protesters and “open borders.” When liberals accuse them of hypocrisy or try to point out contradictions, that doesn’t turn them off Trump—it just reaffirms his presidency’s connection to their personal values, however different they are from those of the bulk of the Latino electorate.