A Domestic Assesment Of The U.s. Elections:The Significance Of The Latino Vote In 2020

Gonzalo Santos*

Por qué los demócratas no han ganado (abrumadoramente) el voto latino en  EEUU? - Infobae
Imagen: Infobae

In this first commentary, I will not assess the 2020 U.S. elections in terms of the impact it will have internationally, but focus on the domestic impact. I will address the international impact in the next commentary, with an emphasis in U.S.-Latin American relations, in general, and U.S.-Mexico relations, in particular.
I begin with the role of Latinos in this year’s elections. Recently, the L.A. Times published an article on why Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley disproportionally voted for Trump (here), giving the false impression that such outcome characterized a national Latino trend. The L.A. Times is emblematic of the national press’s sudden discovery of, and puzzlement over, the diverse Latino electorate.
Against an avalanche of flawed and alarmist articles, the fact remains that in 2020 most Latinos of Mexican-origin, Central Americans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans –who together added up to over 83% of Latinos in 2018– did not vote for Trump, by a large margin; from the lowest pro-Trump vote rate of 23% among Mexican-origin, to 26% among Puerto Ricans, and 29% among Central Americans. The Cubans (and probably the Venezuelans and Nicaraguans) indeed went for Trump 52% but they represent a small –if overly reported– portion of the Latino electorate.
For a better understanding of what happened in 2020, contrast the mainstream media coverage with Juan Gonzalez’s sober and accurate analysis here, aired on Democracy Now!, or explore yourself the quite nuanced behavior of Latino voters here.

the fact remains that in 2020 most Latinos of Mexican-origin, Central Americans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans –who together added up to over 83% of Latinos in 2018– did not vote for Trump

Overall, 32% Latinos voted for Trump, indeed, but that’s not remarkable if compared with Bush II and McCain, as shown in the chart below (from Juan Gonzalez’s presentation) – unless you are as flabbergasted that some Latinos voted for their immigrant community tormentor as I was when Latinos voted in similar amounts for Reagan, who was then causing a bloodbath in Central America, and later Bush II, who turned rogue after 9/11, tossed “compassionate conservatism” out the window, and only saw potential terrorists crossing the Mexican-U.S. border. What those precedents and current results tells us is that, actually, the pro-Republican Latino base –even in the Trump era– remains as reliable, hovering around a fourth to a third, as the much larger white pro-Republican vote has been since the 1970s, hovering around 50-60%.(See Graphic 1).

 What is remarkable, though, is the huge increase – 63.4%, or 8 million more voters – in the Latino voter turnout in 2020, compared to 2016.

 So where do all these facts lead us, in terms both of the Latino electorate and the overall dynamics and outcome of the 2020 elections? Here’s my take, summarized in ten points:

  1. The weight of the Latino electorate is now equal to that of Blacks and will only grow. This is very good news. Latinos have reached critical mass in the political life of this country, and henceforth may assert their political power more successfully.
  2. Against that assertion of Latino political power stands the very large block of white conservative voters that has also mobilized against them and other people of color in the United States. The significant growth of Trump’s voters in 2020 is almost entirely attributed to the lion’s share of the almost 6 million extra white voters in 2020, whereas the even larger growth of Biden voters (compared to Hillary voters) is almost entirely attributed to the lion’s share of the 8 million extra Latino votes, the 3.5 extra Black voters, and the 900,000 extra Asian voters, who together add up to an impressive 12.4 million extra voters of color. It was this huge avalanche of extra voters of color – twice that of extra white voters that flipped AZ, PA, GA, MI, MN, who came out to vote in huge numbers in the great urban centers (Phoenix/Maricopa, Philly, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis), overwhelming the extra white voters that also came out to vote in the sea of red rural counties surrounding them.
  3. That the majority of Cuban/Venezuelan/Nicaraguans voted for Trump and the GOP may be mostly attributed to the enduring legacy of cold war ideology in these communities, above and beyond their own social and material interests (cut of family remittances or travel, denial of asylum or TPS rights, dealing with rampant anti-Latino xenophobia, etc.). It’s as absurd as if the Mexican American vote would still be defined by the Porfirian exiles who came as a result of the Mexican Revolution, but it is what it is. The Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans held up in terrible refugee camps on the Mexican side of the border, blocked from even applying for asylum or TPS, and deported back to their countries, have their American ethnic compatriots to thank for that! (Gráfica 2).
  4. The much smaller pro-Trumpian vote among Mexican/Central American/non-Cuban Caribbeans is mostly attributed to the enduring appeal of patriarchal ideology (the sizeable gender gap between Latino and Latina voters is due to the still strong vestiges of machismo and militarism/gun worship, on the one hand, and the deep culture of empathy and caring, on the other), as well as traditional conservative religious beliefs regarding women’s role and reproductive rights. There’s also the traditional Republican bent of the small, medium, and large Latino business class, as we recently witness with the CEO of Goya Foods. The good news here is that this appeal to ultra-conservatism is only noticeable among older Latino cohorts; among the younger cohorts (<45 years old), these factors vanish and the pro-Trumpian vote is miniscule (the young and middle-aged Latino preference for Bernie Sanders was strong in the primaries, in fact the highest among all ethnic groups.)
  5. There are two general take-aways from the 2020 election. One is that the American people is much more intensely politicized and mobilized, with record turnouts in the elections as well as in the street demonstrations in 2020, on both camps. The other take away is that the American people is much more intensely socially polarized by race/ethnicity along a single, bright white – non-white color line. And, with the percentage of white women who voted for Trump’s reelection growing from 52% in 2016 –despite a white woman running for president– to 55% in 2020 –despite a woman of color running for vice-president–, one can see that this color line has gotten brighter and overrides, at least for white women, gender and class (I call it toxic femininity). This is the real elephant in the nation’s room that the mainstream media is papering over with all that wishful talk of partisan reconciliation for the good of the country, without mentioning the urgent need for racial reconciliation among the bottom 99 percent, so as to address the vast inequalities that has continued to favor the mostly-white Top One Percent.
  6. The 2020 general election was fought ON THE RIGHT OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM, a battle not muffled or diminished by either voter suppression or the pandemic, fought between a multiracial coalition led from the center-right (the alliance of white liberals, white disaffected Republicans, and a massive block of Black & Latino voters), and a white right-extreme right coalition led by the latter. Although both grew in size and potency, the result was a draw in the balance of power.
    The most startling surprise of this election was that the Democratic Establishment strategy of running Biden as the “not-Trump candidate” –decent, empathic, capable–, reneging on or hiding from all the Sanders progressive planks, and entirely focusing on chasing those elusive white conservative voters, did not yield any tangible results. They did not peel any Trump voters away, who not only remained loyal to him, but actually grew in numbers, despite the disastrous performance, constant scandals, and appalling pandemic failure of the Trump first term. Back during the primaries, I predicted this would be the outcome if the Dems insisted in pursuing their wild-goose chase for Trumpist voters. I advocated instead building a strong united front of the center and the progressive left, led by whomever won the primaries. This appeal was repeated when Biden won the primaries, but it quickly fell on deaf ears among Biden liberals, habitually hostile to the left and too afraid of giving “socialist” fodder to the rabid right. I kept warning that going into the general election without a liberal-progressive alliance –which should have been sealed with a progressive VP choice and the announcement of a liberal-progressive Unity Cabinet– would not defeat the GOP or Trumpism, and that the Dems were risking losing the national election to Trump just to block the ascent of progressive politics in America. I was proven right on the first count, sadly, and almost proven right on the second, too close for comfort. I am relieved Biden won by slim margins in the flipped states that gave him the victory, but it could have and should have been by a landslide.
  7. The incontrovertible fact of this election is that Trumpism and its main vehicle –he GOP– came out, despite Trump’s defeat, not just unscathed, but strengthened! If there ever were optimal conditions present to rout an inept, unfit incumbent president by a landslide, a tsunami of disaffected voters, and punish the party that enabled him and never dared to defy him, it was in these elections. Instead, Trump barely lost in the few flipped states –no thanks to whites, who came out ever stronger for him!– and so, the despicable Trump lackeys in the GOP not only held on to most of their Senate seats, and possibly will retain control of it, but actually grew in the House of Representatives (McCarthy does have, incredibly at this point, reason to celebrate!). But take note, liberals and progressives: an autopsy of the House results shows that all those Dems that lost their seats did not support Medicare for All, whereas all those that fought hard and won in the competitive districts did.
  8. In summation, the patent failure of the Dems to attract Trumpist white voters with their strictly centrist, conciliatory message, which did not make a dent on the disturbing resurgence of white supremacy, white nationalism, xenophobia, and even fascist ideology among an even larger sector of the white American electorate, points towards the inescapable conclusion that the only way forward in confronting and defeating this growing threat to American democracy we call Trumpism, the only way to protect, preserve and expand on the multicultural social contract that took generations of struggles to win, will be embracing new, progressive leadership willing to champion much more progressive policies, and support our grassroots, militant, social movements and collective actions.
    The main lesson is that the political center has proven incapable of stopping the rise of the extreme right and it will continue to present a menace unless an equal and opposed force rises to vanquish it. If the unjustified and obsolete chokehold liberals have on the Democratic party continues much longer, as it appears to be set for the next four years, the extreme right will effectively sabotage the Biden presidency and come back roaring to power after four years, with no one in the weakened center able or even willing to stop them, conceding defeat to neofascists “gracefully,” as they did last time with Obama/Biden.
  9. Going forward: This is the moment to celebrate the defeat of Trump, albeit dangerously narrow, weep the self-inflicted Dem setbacks in Congress, regroup all progressive social forces, and launch many new, militant, progressive campaigns and struggles –both within in the halls of power by pushing the Biden administration and the liberal Dems in Congress, state legislatures, and local governments, combined with asserting people power in the streets of America. The progressive wing of the Dems grew in strength –the Squad doubled in size!– and are more than ready to help lead the charge from the inside, if the Dem leadership don’t block them. The social movements have also matured immensely since they allowed themselves to be coopted, misled, and even betrayed by the Obama administration. Biden/Harris must understand their role and enable the left, not the right, in the next, transitional period.
    A robust, mobilized progressive electorate can and will sweep the election in 2022 and put Harris in the White House and retake Congress in 2024. There is room for centrists, of course, even disaffected, honest conservatives, but they can’t and shouldn’t attempt to lead the next phase of the struggle. They –the Dem Establishment, now surrounded on all sides by very hostile forces hell bent on blocking them– had their chance to defeat Trumpism and cobble a truly winning coalition in 2020; they failed. It’s time for them, their mild and corrupt ways, and their perennial delusions of who & what they are truly dealing with, to step aside and let the American people, under new and much more bold and courageous leadership, rise up and soundly defeat the Trumpists with a new, better vision of the future and a better blueprint to move the nation and the world forward.
  10. For many reasons, if I am to be honest after observing the failures in vision, leadership and strategy of the Democrats, I cannot say I am optimist in the immediate period ahead, what with the relentless, virulent growth of Trumpism among white folks and the persistent absence of a vision and strategy to confront and defeat it. The social movements give me much more hope they will remain scrupulously autonomous, increasingly unified, and firm on their intersectional demands. In the meantime, we shall soon see whether the Biden team returns to their old habits. Check who Biden chooses for his Cabinet –it will show whether his administration is just going to be more of the same in the increasingly dysfunctional American Duopoly, or whether real change is coming. As for Trump and his present scandalous attempts to stay in power with the pliant support of most Republicans, I believe Trump will fail, but not before laying the groundwork for waging relentless political guerrilla warfare from the outside in the Biden period. I predict that by Day One of the Biden administration, any semblance of a bipartisan honeymoon will be over and the partisan war will recommence, despite policy concessions and cabinet appointments to appease the unappeasable Republicans, with Trumpism – now 71 million strong and loyal to Trump – putting relentless pressure on both parties and the nation as a whole.
    Are you ready for that, America? Are you ready to rumble?

The main lesson is that the political center has proven incapable of stopping the rise of the extreme right and it will continue to present a menace unless an equal and opposed force rises to vanquish it.