As ambivalent as I am about a Donald Trump victory — or, for that matter, a Joe Biden one — there is one scenario I would enjoy: What if Trump was reelected thanks to support from Hispanics?
Now, I should say this is only a remote possibility. There’s zero indication Trump can win a majority of Hispanics nationally. Biden has about a 20-point lead among Latino voters nationwide. But the whole reason the thought comes to mind is Biden is underperforming among the fastest growing demographic, even at a time when he is doing better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 and has been holding a lead over Trump for months.
The biggest worry for the Biden campaign is Trump actually is leading among Hispanics in Florida, a crucial state for Democrats and an absolute must-win for Republicans. This is largely because Cuban-Americans tend to be supportive of Republicans more than other Hispanic groups, and Trump’s anti-socialist rhetoric probably has special appeal to a community with long memories of Castro’s takeover of Cuba.
But the fact Trump is doing well with Hispanic voters in Florida highlights an important point: Hispanics aren’t a monolithic group. Cuban-Americans are different than Mexican-Americans, and Mexican-Americans are very different than Puerto Ricans.
The national media makes it seem like Hispanics generically care about immigration with equal intensity by virtue of the fact they’re Hispanic. But Cuban-Americans historically had a special carve-out in immigration law. Puerto Ricans may care about immigration for principled reasons, but it’s worth remembering Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
So why would I enjoy it if Hispanics voted decisively for Trump? Because it would make some people look like idiots and force pretty much everyone to rethink their locked-in positions on not just immigration but on identity politics generally.
Much of the intensity around the immigration issue in recent years has stemmed from the belief Democrats want “open borders” so they can import more Democratic voters. There are thoughtful, non-racist versions of this argument, and there are dumb, racist versions of it. But it’s gotten to the point where it’s mostly a lazy talking point.
But it’s a persuasive talking point to many because many Democrats talk as if that is precisely their thinking. As Peter Beinart noted in a 2017 essay for the Atlantic, “As the Democrats grew more reliant on Latino votes, they were more influenced by pro- immigrant activism.” In 2008, he noted, the Democratic Party platform condemned illegal immigration; in 2016, it wasn’t mentioned.
I hate most of Donald Trump’s rhetoric about immigration, but wouldn’t it be wild if it turned out to be more offensive to rich white liberals than to the targets of his diatribes?
Meanwhile, the racists who tell me importing brown people is suicidal and that’s why we must support Trump would, to borrow a phrase from that great Cuban American, Ricky Ricardo, “have some ’splaining to do.”
And so would the progressive activists and politicians who think they can summarize the views and attitudes of a hugely diverse group of human beings.
Again, I wish Trump wouldn’t use racist rhetoric about immigration. But if Hispanics voted for him in large numbers despite that rhetoric and his immigration policies, it would deal a mortal wound to the claim wanting to enforce immigration laws or making our immigration system slightly more restrictive is racist.
Hispanics themselves would benefit in the long run simply by virtue of the fact both parties now would compete for their votes.
I understand this is a hard argument to make with Trump in office, and I personally wish we were talking about a different Republican presidential candidate. But Trump’s relative success with Hispanics suggests it could happen someday, particularly with a Hispanic GOP nominee. And that’s something to hope for.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.