Speaking at a Hispanic Heritage Month event earlier this week, President Trump made a characteristically self-involved and self-congratulatory offhand remark: “I better win the Hispanics next time. But we did well. We did a lot better than anyone thought.” By “next time,” Trump may have meant 2020, not 2018, since the President reportedly does not see the upcoming midterms, which augur darkly for the GOP, as related to his performance. Gabriel Sherman reports that Trump has told friends that “it would be Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s fault if Republicans lost the House and the Senate,” and that he refers to “his 2020 campaign as ‘the real election.’” (Obviously, expect this interpretation to change if Republicans outperform expectations in November.) But what will happen in seven weeks’ time? Vox’s Li Zhou, after speaking with nine experts, throws cold water on the idea that Hispanic and Latino voters’ antipathy toward Trump will necessarily translate into Democratic gains: “Democrats need to dial up their efforts on voter outreach if they want to channel this sentiment into actual support at the polls in November, experts say. The party has long banked on support from Hispanic and Latino voters, who could be key for flipping purple states and districts—but has struggled to actually get them to the polls on Election Day.”
This is not a new problem for Democrats. Back in the days when Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” rhetoric was considered extreme, the party was salivating over spring 2012 polls showing that Barack Obama would take 70 percent of Latino voters. (For comparison, the party currently leads 64-22 among Hispanic voters in the generic House ballot.) As I reported at the time, few experts thought in 2012 that these lopsided numbers portended a blue wave in states like Arizona or Texas. In part, this was because Latino and Hispanic voters tended slightly more conservative in those deep-red states than they did nationally, but mostly it was because their turnout was so low, and state party organizations were, in general, not up to the task of registering voters and getting them to the polls in large enough numbers.
Some of the experts who spoke to Vox indicated that, in the intervening years, this problem has been recognized, but not necessarily solved. Anger at Trump, they noted, is intense: over the specific issues of DACA repeal, the inept response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, ICE abuses, and more; and over the impression that this combination of malice and incompetence stems directly from the overt racism that inspired Trump’s campaign kickoff. But many acknowledged historically low turnout among Hispanic and Latino voters, using words like “questionable” and “doubtful” to characterize the thought that 2018 might change this trend. (Incidentally, the fact that this problem still remains unresolved is yet another data point in support of the theory that Democrats have been misallocating their resources: overpaying campaign consultants whose supposed tech-driven mastery of turnout strategies has conspicuously, and catastrophically, failed to materialize; and failing to invest in the more mundane work of party-building.)
Still, even if the imminent midterms don’t leave Democrats with enough time to build up the electorate they need, the ongoing self-destruction that is the GOP’s approach to Hispanic and Latino voters may still give them a chance to turn things around. Vox notes an underappreciated nuance about these voters’ politics: They don’t like Trump, but they’re also internally diverse and not straightforwardly liberal. A more strategic GOP might try to think creatively of ways to exploit those dynamics, and to avoid the kind of rank antagonism that may be catalyzing what public opinion expert Gary Segura calls a pan-Latino identity. But this is a party that has decided, at almost all levels, to line up squarely behind President Trump—a man who seems to be entirely driven by his impulses, his appetites, and his hatreds. Whatever slim chance there was of the GOP abandoning this self-destructive path before Trump came along, there’s even less now. The only question is whether the opposition will do anything about it.