Here are my thoughts, mostly based on general chisme gathered from actually speaking to South Texans the last few days. I say it this way because too many experts are either freaking out or pushing things aside. But it’s a conversation that must be had, and not 8 days before the next election.
I was hoping Kuff would have some numbers on what occurred in Latino counties in Texas and Harris County, and he came through. Much like many folks looking at numbers, Kuff doesn’t know what happened with this contraction of Latino Democratic support. Or, in other words, why so many South Texas Mexicans went for El Cheeto.
Like I said, I have no solutions to offer. Plenty of smart people have plenty of ideas, and quite a few of them were raising issues before the election. Might be a good idea to listen to them. All I’m saying is that whatever happened here, it wasn’t what we wanted. If we want to avoid a repeat, we better get to work.
Elsewhere, the Dem experts will now say that, given Miami-Dade County’s result, “Latinos are not a monolith.” Well, duh!
All one has to look at are socioeconomic numbers by individual groups, geography, among other demographics to know that there can’t be one message for Latinos, but it must be one that is as coherent as possible. Every Latino group has its own set of issues, no different than suburban and rural whites. The problem is that consultants will hone in on one particular group in their quest to win a state (Florida) with a message that isn’t believable for whatever reason, while ignoring the other groups in other parts of the country who then become an easy target for disinformation.
In my opinion, Democrats wasted a lot of resources on Florida’s non-Mexican Latinos, trying to convince them that Democrats are not socialist supporters of long-dead Latin American presidents. (The DNC ran radio ads saying as much in 2016, too, and I predicted this would occur again with a Biden candidacy supported by neoliberals and war-mongering republicans.) It wasn’t effective in 2016, either.
Meanwhile, other Latino areas of the country were simply taken for granted, particularly those voters who don’t often vote and may have formed opinions based on disinformation because they haven’t been engaged effectively by Democrats. Latino outreach by community groups may be the difference in Arizona and Georgia and could serve as an example of a possible solution. The work that JOLT and TOP did in Texas made a difference, but it is work that needs more investment to reach more people in Texas.
As JOLT’s Antonio Arellano mentions in the Tweets mentioned by Kuff, 500,000 more Latinos in Texas voted for the first time. Perhaps a good survey of these folks would give us some much needed information for the future.
Taking a look at South Texas Mexicans, we saw a move toward Trump and republicans that many did not expect. The Republican “fracking” attack against Biden (along with the usual republican culture war) worked and it cost Dems an opportunity to win back Congressional District 23 and almost lost State Senate District 19. Campos agrees. Another case of Trump disinformation finding an audience. The argument that Trump was a disaster on COVID-19 was not going to be enough.
Fracking companies (and the local businesses that benefit from fracking) are a big employer (and sponsor of cultural events) in South and West Texas. These workers didn’t care about the effects of fracking on the environment or any coming of green jobs in the future. They cared about their jobs now and were duped into believing that Biden would be the cause of their financial demise.
Fracking and oil and gas drilling has been suffering for a while in South Texas, and local businesses have been hit already with the original contraction, and that had more to do with market conditions than anything else. But for money-grubbing drilling companies, it’s easier to blame the Dems than go into a discussion of their own bad business practices or of how the market works.
On top of this, Trump offered the bigots amongst us the freedom to blame and show their hate toward immigrants, Black Lives Matter, the poor, gays, women, etc. In other words, the freedom to use their screwed up versions of Christianity and their weird fantasy of rugged individualism as a weapon toward others. Trump is no different than the asshole bullies some of us had to deal with growing up. Perhaps this was the “sleeping giant:” Bullies who finally had their say in a world that was too kind to those they have bullied. Just a thought. The culture wars are alive and well in all demographics–just look at the 55% of white people who voted for Trump.
Something to point out is that these South Texas Mexican Trump supporters aren’t as wealthy or even as middle class as the middle to upper-class Latin Americans (Cuban, Venezuelan) in Miami-Dade who continually build wealth and political power and spread it among their own. I grew up with some of these South Texas types and their parents were migrant farm workers and worked at the local cannery, just like mine. Since it was seasonal work, their parents were at the food stamp and government cheese line, just like mine. Some just want to forget from where they came.
Many in this younger generation took jobs in the oil field and in all the businesses that benefit from it. With the oil business doing its own contraction even with Republicans in power, the benefits of NAFTA no longer helping businesses thrive, and even agri-jobs going by the wayside because of cheaper migrant labor, there is a big swath of people whose livelihoods are often threatened and always searching for someone to blame. COVID-19 didn’t help. But, no one is bothering to talk to them or promising something better. You get a loud-mouth playing the blame-game on TV, it’s obvious that people respond to it all over the country. “Divide and Conquer” is still an effective republican messaging tool.
Anecdotally, a South Texas friend mentioned that some of these drilling-related businesses were helping Trump along by threatening jobs if they didn’t show support for Trump. It wouldn’t surprise me, if true. Farmers and the businesses that benefited from them would force Mexican American employees to vote their way in the days before the Chicano civil rights movement. This crap still happens and it is a lot easier in South Texas.
Another anecdote: A friend sent me a pic of a family I know with a Trump flag waving from their trailer house porch (like the one in the meme) and I remember them being poorer than dirt, on the free lunch program at school when we were younger, but now, they’re republicans. And, then, I remember the days before, during, and after the civil rights movement also had their own rendition of sell-outs and wannabes who didn’t care for anyone but themselves. It happens in all demographics.
Still, Biden was winning many South Texas counties, as Kuff’s data shows, but not at the usually strong rate to which Dems are accustomed and rely on without much effort. In my own area of birth, Biden was averaging in the 60s. Down toward the Rio Grande Valley, it was in the 50s. Zapata County, on the border where some fight Trump’s border wall and the median income is $26K, went 53% for Trump. Some say it was a blip and it won’t happen again, but, I’m not so sure.
Kuff mentioned how base Democratic districts didn’t turnout as well as suburban districts in Harris County. No doubt, work and money has been poured into those formerly bright red districts that went ignored when I first arrived to Houston 20 years ago. Perhaps that’s a solution for the base Dem districts and South Texas?
Still, in places like Harris County, local election numbers guy Hector de Leon reminds us that 66% of Latino voters in Harris County do not reside in traditionally Latino areas. So, the work of effectively targeting Latinos needs to happen everywhere. But the messaging needs to match the needs of specific areas. Too much work? Too expensive? I’ll remember that next time Democrats fund ineffective non-Latino candidates in 60-40 GOP districts.
Anyway, we are still waiting for Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina–states with their own Latino organizing efforts who are definitely a part of the final outcome.