Why so many Latino voters are flocking to Trump’s GOP
The idea that minorities vote Democrat is an ingrained assumption of American politics. But Mike Garcia — the son of a Mexican immigrant — is proof that Hispanic Republicans are alive and well in Donald Trump’s GOP.
Earlier this month, Garcia flipped a Democratic congressional district in California — the seat formerly held by scandal-scarred “throuple” Rep. Katie Hill — into the Republican column for the first time in 22 years.
Garcia, a 44-year-old former Navy fighter pilot, is now a newly sworn-in member of Congress, representing a district where more than half the population is nonwhite, 35 percent of it Hispanic — after beating his Democratic rival by 10 points in a May 12 special election.
While most of America’s Latinos have voted Democrat since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, around 30 percent of them have maintained a deep loyalty to the Republican Party. And that core has remained solid throughout Trump’s term in the White House.
In his new book “The Hispanic Republican” (Ecco), historian Geraldo Cadava examines how the GOP built that loyalty on a foundation of personal connections — and cemented it with ideological bonds.
“For the past half-century, Hispanic Republicans and the Republican Party have been deliberate and methodical in their mutual, sometimes hesitant, embrace,” Cadava writes.
Garcia is now one of five Republicans of Hispanic descent in the House of Representatives, compared to 36 Hispanic Democrats. This November, more than a dozen Hispanic Republicans are vying to join him by flipping blue districts to red.
One of them is Nicole Malliotakis, the Cuban-American state assemblywoman from Staten Island who was Mayor de Blasio’s Republican challenger in 2017. She is mounting a campaign against first-term Rep. Max Rose (D-SI/Brooklyn) in the fall. A daughter of immigrants — her father was born in Greece and her mother fled Fidel Castro’s regime in 1959 — Malliotakis grew up speaking Spanish at home.
Cuban-American Republican Nicole Malliotakis (left) follows in the footsteps of Mexican-American Nixon appointee Romana Acosta Bañuelos (right).Drew Angerer/Getty Images; AP
“I think you’ll see more pockets of the Latino community voting Republican this November,” Malliotakis told The Post. “On issue after issue, the Democratic Party is driving a wedge between itself and Latino voters.”
Trump’s approval rating among Hispanic-Americans stands at 44 percent, a Hill/HarrisX poll found this month. That’s a notable jump over the 28 percent of Latinos who voted for him in the 2016 presidential contest.
Given Trump’s “America-first” policies, his hard-line border promises and his combative rhetoric, that number is the last thing that the GOP elite ever expected to see.
Party insiders have believed for years that only an embrace of comprehensive immigration reform, including permissive entry policies and citizenship for those here illegally, could fend off electoral doom in the face of Hispanic Americans’ demographic growth.
But as Cadava’s book shows, the roots of Latinos’ GOP support are entangled with their complex, sometimes contradictory feelings about immigration — going all the way back to President Richard Nixon’s first term.
Nixon was set on making inroads into the Hispanic vote during his 1972 re-election campaign. Mexican-American support had been important in the California native’s races for Congress and the Senate years before. But his squeaker of a White House victory in 1968 came with little help from Latinos, who went overwhelmingly for Democrat Hubert Humphrey.
To goose enthusiasm, Nixon tried a classic patronage-politics maneuver: He named a Mexican-American businesswoman, Romana Acosta Bañuelos, to be treasurer of the United States. It was the highest-level federal appointment yet for any Hispanic American.
And it was nearly derailed two weeks later, when federal agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service busted the tortilla factory that Bañuelos operated in Gardena, Calif. Seventy undocumented employees took to their heels; 36 of them were caught and bused back over the border.
It was a dirty trick, Bañuelos insisted, sparked by Nixon foes who opposed her nomination. The news media was even on hand to cover the raid, she complained.
But despite the embarrassing headlines, the president remained loyal to his nominee. She was confirmed by the Senate a few weeks later.