Latino voters are one of the fastest growing constituencies in Texas, and that is a problem for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Ever since former President George W. Bush was elected governor in 1994, Texas has reliably swung to the right, a state that could be relied on to go Republican in most elections, but that may not be the case in this election and the years to come.
Why? Well, in part this is due to the "Trump effect." Conventional wisdom says that any Republican presidential nominee can easily count on carrying Texas in the general election, but conventional wisdom has seldom encountered anything like the 2016 Republican presidential nominee.
Trump has the potential to increase the number of Latinos registering for this election, and many may register because of the "Trump effect," Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at University of Houston, says.
"It's a question of what it means to be an American. Historically speaking, this is the melting pot, a place where everyone is welcome and where cultures come together and blend and we all work together, 'e pluribus unum,' as simple as that," Cortina says. "When you're being attacked for your identity, when someone like Trump implies there's only one way to be an American, and you can't look like we do, or have an accent as beautiful as mine, I'm going to make a point of going out and registering to vote and voting against that person. We're thinking Trump is very likely to inspire people to do that."
Trump rose to prominence despite (and potentially because of) the, shall we say, controversial tripe that regularly spews out of his mouth. He's insulted women, politicians, Muslims, Democrats and Republicans steadily since he threw his hat into the ring in 2015. But he's painted Hispanic people in a particularly negative light in a way that has set off warning bells for many potential Hispanic voters, Cortina says.
The rhetoric against Latinos started right out of the gate when Trump announced he was entering the race. "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people," Trump said of Mexicans last June.
At that point, he was the longest of long shots, so it almost seemed funny that someone with such a slim chance of ever securing the nomination would utter such racist statements. However, it's gotten much less amusing as Trump has failed to flame out and fade away from the race as so many originally predicted.
Over the following months his statements about Hispanics haven't changed much. During his stump speech when he swung through Houston back in June, Trump once again mentioned plans to build a "big wall" on the U.S.-Mexico border, a plan met with wild cheers from the crowd. The undercurrent of racism and hate is simply a part of his platform.
Late last week his campaign sent out a new commercial called "Two Americas." The first choice (aka if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins) shows a country where immigrants — all apparently criminals and all Latino — wander through the nation wreaking havoc. The second choice (aka Trump-erica) is in brilliant colors and shows a whole bunch of white people doing stuff like patrolling the border in helicopters while peering down gun sights. So he's not backing off on this point.
But at the same time, Trump is trying to walk back some of his rhetoric. Over the weekend he met with Latino leaders in Los Angeles, according to the Associated Press. The reasoning behind this is simple — he needs them.
For starters, Trump isn't exactly on solid ground within the Republican constituency he's supposed to be playing to. Last week, Public Policy Polling found that Trump is only six points ahead of Clinton in Texas.
The poll found that Trump is only ahead of Clinton in the polls because of a ton of support of older, white voters in the state. Clinton beat the pants off of Trump when it came to younger voters, polling 49 percent to 35 percent with voters under 65 and 60 percent to 35 percent with voters under 45. She's also ahead of Trump by a wide margin with nonwhite Texas voters, with 73 percent of those polled saying they'd support her compared to the meager 21 percent that said they'd back Trump.
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The old white conservative voting block has been shrinking, even in Texas, and at the same time Latino voters are being actively encouraged by various groups to get registered and get involved in the political process. These two factors together may actually cause a shift in the political landscape here in Texas, Cortina says. "We're going to have a lot of people who will potentially turn out and register for this election just to vote against Trump."
Clinton has her own issues. She's never been exactly popular or well-liked, and so she may not get the support that, you know, President Obama got from voters. (And Obama still didn't come close to winning Texas.)
All of this doesn't mean that Texas is going to turn blue in November, or even that Trump will ultimately lose the Lone Star State's 38 electoral college votes. Still, for the first time since the conservative movement really got going in the 1990s, there could be a question of which way the state will go, both this year and in coming elections. "It's not going to change the state overnight, but that poll in Texas shows how close this race could be. A Republican candidate only ahead six points in Texas? That's unheard of," Cortina says.
Of course, this all hinges on one crucial thing — whether all these newly registered fired-up Latino voters actually vote. "The voters have to actually show up at the polls for any of the rest to happen," Cortina says. "But I think once they understand and realize the power of the vote is theirs to grab, things will begin to change. If Latinos start really voting and becoming a more active voice here in Texas, ultimately that will be better for our democracy, that's what real democracy is supposed to be, everyone having a voice."