- - Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Although Hispanic-Americans primarily support Democratic candidates, there’s always been a sizable proportion who vote Republican. It infuriates the larger faction, who do everything in their power to the smaller faction to maximize animosity and minimize influence. Their tactics don’t always work, but succeed just enough to create a false political and societal narrative to aid their Democratic allies.

Geraldo Cadava sets the record straight in “The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, From Nixon to Trump.” An associate professor of history and Latina and Latino Studies at Northwestern University, he was inspired to write this book “because of arguments I’ve had with my Republican grandfather and namesake, Geraldo Cadava Jr.”

His beloved grandfather voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, and would ultimately “adopt Republican positions wholesale.” While the author notes “Latinos aren’t naturally liberal or conservative,” he believes their “complex histories have given them good reasons to be Democrats, but also good reasons to be Republicans.” 

Hispanics used to be overwhelmingly Republican, but abandoned the party to support Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1932. Some shifted back during World War II, which they felt had been “responsible for their upward mobility” and a life “often outside the barrios where they grew up.” It was a “pivotal moment in the evolution of their political views” when they realized Democrats had “begun to take them for granted, and therefore ignored them.”

The 1952 election was a seminal moment. Dwight Eisenhower only won 5% to 10% of the Hispanic vote, but his campaign “laid some of the groundwork that later Republicans built upon.” His Hispanic supporters, known as Latinos con Eisenhower, supported his positions “on free enterprise, his fight against communism, and the idea that the United States had an important role to play in spreading democracy around the world.” Succeeding groups like Viva Reagan and Viva Bush often referred to this important connection.

Richard Nixon, in contrast, stumbled slightly during a Latin American trip while serving as Eisenhower’s vice president. His advisers didn’t realize the region was becoming, in Walter Lippmann’s words, a “diplomatic Pearl Harbor” due to growing anti-American sentiments. Nixon learned a crucial lesson, and worked hard to earn Mexican-American votes and Cuban-Americans, who turned against dictator Fidel Castro in 1960.

Mr. Cadava spends an entire section examining the growth of Nixon’s Hispanic support. He engaged in “classic patronage politics” in his first presidential term, from significant political appointments to community-based financial programs. This shifted his vote tally from single digits in 1968 to nearly one-third of Hispanic voters four years later. In turn, this established a “new normal” with Hispanic voters and a “national strategy that future Republicans sought to duplicate.” 

The Reagan Revolution, which helped build the modern U.S. conservative movement, was also “no less of a revolución for Hispanic Republicans.” There was a significant shift “away from courtship through patronage toward courtship through more ideological arguments about shared values and policy positions.” Hispanic Republicans were onside not only with Reagan’s free market-oriented sensibilities and anti-communism, but also his opposition to welfare and affirmative action.

Similarly, the Bush family built significant trust with Hispanic Republicans. This powerful network helped George H.W. Bush win California, New York and Illinois in 1988 — which no other Republican has accomplished since. They “placed their faith” in Bush I “not only because of what he had done for them over the course of his career, but also because they saw him as the last best hope to save the party from its more conservative insurgents.” Hispanic Republicans also believed George W. Bush’s support for their community was equally “heartfelt,” respected his “moderate stances on immigration” and border policies, and strongly backed his War on Terror.

What about Donald Trump?

The current president’s tough, controversial rhetoric against Mexicans turned off some American voters, but most loyal Hispanic Republicans didn’t abandon him. Why? Former Bush political staffer Daniel Garza suggested to Mr. Cadava that “Hispanics would vote for the Republican Party because of their conservative principles.” This shift from “man-not-party to party-not-man” helps explain why Mr. Trump ended up with 29% of the Hispanic vote — and confounded the liberal media who thought he would be wiped out.

Mr. Cadava’s dogged determination to untangle the Hispanic community’s multifaceted relationship with the GOP is both admirable and important to understanding U.S. politics. Hispanic Republicans need not hide in the political shadows anymore, even though they never were really there to begin with.   

• Michael Taube is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.

• • •


By Geraldo Cadava

Ecco Books/HarperCollins, $29.99, 448 pages

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