And it could be Democrats greatest nightmare, too
How did Mitt Romney end up losing more of the Latino vote than John McCain who lost more than George W. Bush?
It mainly comes down to one utterance of “self-deportation” in one primary debate.
Sure, there were other utterances that involved him saying he’d have vetoed the DREAM Act and planned to reverse President Obama’s executive action that protected undocumented people brought to this country as kids. But deigning to use the word “deportation” aloud was probably good enough.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I watched Pete Wilson successfully demonize immigrants to win re-election and, he hoped, position himself for the presidency. Even as I kid, I sensed the brutal unfairness of targeting law-abiding people and their kids who’d come to this country for a better life. My great-grandparents had done the same thing. So had everyone else’s, in some way or another. But I didn’t quite comprehend the visceral, soul-wrenching reaction with which the Mexican-American community rose up to — over the course of the next two decades — utterly gut the California Republican Party. Until now.
California’s Latinos weren’t reacting to an imaginary threat of FEMA camps and Jade Helm 15 gun-grabbing (which is the paranoia of culture built on white supremacy stubbornly clinging to the twilight of its perceived majority). In their bones and blood, if not in their actual minds, they felt the true agony of recent history when Mexican Americans were rounded up and sent “back to Univision,” as Donal Trump might say.
I had no knowledge of the so-called “repatriation” of the late 20s and 30s that saw more than a million Mexican Americans sent out of the country until I heard Francisco Balderrama discuss it on NPR’s Fresh Air. I had no idea that La Plaza — where the city celebrates the early settlement of the Pueblo de Los Ángeles — was used to round up the soon-to-be deported, 60 percent of whom were U.S. citizens. Several times I brought classes of high school students, more than 90 percent Latino, and I’d never even known to mention this essential fact. This shames me, knowing how many of my students lived in fear of their families being shattered and knew their educational future would be stunted, possibly forever, by their immigration status.
But somehow they knew it.
A new poll shows Donald Trump doing about 5 percent worse with Latino voters than Romney. This is just one poll and it’s actually good news for Trump considering the horror he’s proposing — an unprecedented mass deportation of some 30 million, which he claims is the actual size of the undocumented population, that would include hundreds of thousands if not millions of U.S. citizens born to undocumented adults. And he’s promising to do it in less than two years.
In the 30s you could hand immigrants train tickets back to Mexico because they were mostly from Mexico. Today’s undocumented are mostly here on expired visas from all over the world. Most of them don’t remember the countries to where they’ll be sent “back.” And who knows how those countries will treat them.
Republicans tried to avoid this, wisely. But the die has been set for this moment decades ago, as I explain at the National Memo:
After the loss in 2012, when Mitt Romney moved right on immigration to win the primary, the GOP establishment demanded immigration reform and the GOP base demanded mass deportations. Reform proponents Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker backed away from a path to citizenship but their past stances made them seem weak and phony. Trump’s embrace of racist rhetoric seemed like a burst of sweet truth to immigration opponents and white nationalists. Thus, even though Trump continues to dissemble and revise things he says on a nearly constant basis, he seems like the honest man in Greece to voters who like their white identity politics and won’t let them go.
This is the GOP’s greatest nightmare. The party is being scarred as anti-Latino in much the same way it was justifiably branded as anti-black during the height of the Southern Strategy.
But it could also be our greatest nightmare. Trump is a particularly agile demagogue. His lack of allegiance to any donor groups allows him to make offensive appeals but also populist appeals that capture working class voters, including the so-called “Reagan Democrats” who felt the sting of conservative economics and accepted the interpretation that the real cause of their pain was the loss of stature to minorities.
Resentment toward Latinos is a very real sentiment that echoes the perpetual resentment America tends to feel to our most recent immigrants. Trump is unleashing a real sense of unrighteous indignation that can easily get ugly and already has:
— ¡Gabe! Ortíz (@TUSK81) September 12, 2015
We need to recognize that the GOP has already split into two parties: one that will not give up identity politics and one that wants to see itself live on to cut taxes for the rich and take away health insurance for many centuries to come. If Democrats can stay united and call out the ugliness that’s being awakened as a distraction from real issues — like rebuilding the middle class and wealth inequality that threatens our democracy — we will win.
If not, the horror Trump promises can be made real again.
[Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr]