Hispanics or coups

2020 proved the GOP can win lots of Hispanic votes...but not if they turn to violence.

Maybe I missed my calling as a political pundit. At 2 PM on Election Day 2020, I made a series of seven predictions about the election, all but the last of which came true:

I did miss the coup. BUT, all the way back in 2012, I made an even more ominous prediction:

In fact, this tweet was less prophetic than it looks. I got it wrong in three important ways. First, the “2016” prediction was obviously wrong, since the GOP kept the “whites only” thing and won. Second, I was incorrectly envisioning a military coup:

That obviously did not happen. Although a few reservists were involved in the coup attempt of 1/6, the military itself had nothing to do with the insurrection, strongly condemned it, and would have intervened to crush it if that had become necessary. The military also repeatedly and publicly declared that it would not intervene on behalf of Trump in his attempt to overturn the results of the election.

The other thing I got wrong was the “or”, because in 2020 the GOP actually did both. Trump actually made significant gains with Hispanic and (to a lesser degree) Black voters relative to his 2016 performance — or relative to Romney in 2012. And then his supporters launched a coup attempt anyway.

But I think the idea underlying that faux-prophetic tweet was and is sound. The GOP might win another election or two due to Democratic bumbling, but in the long term they have two basic options: Either figure out how to be a majority, or figure out how to overturn majority rule in America. And because the GOP appears to have maxed out its percentage of the white vote in 2012 (Romney got a whopping 59% of white voters higher than Trump in 2016 or 2020), that means that a conservative majority will have to include more nonwhites. And if you think Black voters are mostly a lost cause (heh) for the GOP, then since Asian voters are still a very small and highly concentrated slice of the electorate, that really just leaves Hispanics by process of elimination.

So, which way, Republican man?


The Hispanic shift

The Hispanic shift in 2020 was real. Giancarlo Sopo, who worked for the Trump campaign’s Hispanic outreach (but who later broke with the Trumpists and denounced the coup attempt), had a good thread laying out the county-level evidence.

Sopo shows a lot of county-level data indicating that the Hispanic shift to Trump was not just Cubans, but also included Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Colombians. Though he’s obviously going to be biased, more neutral observers have reached the same conclusion.

Now, county-level data isn’t always dispositive — in theory, it could be that white voters in heavily Hispanic counties shifted hugely toward Trump. But exit poll data corroborates the county-level story, suggesting it was Hispanics that shifted toward Trump even as some white voters abandoned him.

And most importantly of all, precinct-level analysis tells exactly the same story (Remember, precincts are more homogeneous than counties and so give a better picture of demographic voting patterns). Bloomberg did a detailed analysis of voting precincts in the heavily Hispanic counties containing Miami, Houston, and Phoenix. They found that although the Hispanic shift to Republicans was strongest in Miami, it was also clearly present in both the Houston and Phoenix areas.

Which leads us to the next question: Why did Hispanics shift to the GOP in 2020? Is it the beginning of a trend, or just a flash in the pan? Some have suggested that Hispanics simply prefer incumbent Presidents. This explanation can’t be ruled out, but it seems a bit dismissive and certainly more than a bit self-serving for Democrats.

Another explanation, popular among some liberals, is that Hispanics are starting to consider themselves White, and thus are shifting to the GOP out of ethnic self-identification. But while this might happen — just as it did with the Italians and Irish — it will probably take a lot longer than this. Though ethnic attrition has been happening to a small degree, it doesn’t really become significant until the third or really the fourth generation:

If this pattern holds, it’ll probably be at least three more decades before Hispanics become White — or whatever the new definition of the American ethnic mainstream becomes.

A better and simpler explanation is that there are simply a lot of conservative Hispanics out there. Antonio Garcia-Martinez has written that many working-class Hispanics are turned off by elite (White) liberal culture — an idea that would be consistent with the general trend toward education polarization in the American electorate. Garcia-Martinez also talks about how positively many Hispanics view America — as a land of opportunity rather than a racist, oppressive entity. Thus, the anti-Americanism that has become popular among much of the Left in recent years might be turning off many Hispanics.

It’s also worth noting, as I did in a Bloomberg post back in October, that Hispanics have generally done very well in America in recent decades. Their incomes have risen faster than White people’s:

A 2018 paper by Chetty et al. found that Hispanic upward mobility is on track to bring them to a level of approximate parity with Whites.

Hispanics thus have some reason to be satisfied with their current economic trajectory, which is indeed delivering the dream that many of their ancestors immigrated to America to pursue. Their desire to upend that system may thus be limited.

One other factor deserves mentioning: The effective end of net Hispanic immigration around 2007. The “caravans” in the news notwithstanding, mass migration from Latin America is effectively a thing of the past at this point. That could change, obviously, but it sure looks similar to the end of the Irish and East European waves. The end of mass migration probably reduces the salience of the immigration issue in some Hispanic Americans’ minds.

So how can Republicans continue to court Hispanics? I don’t know; I am not a political strategist. My guess would be some combination of A) government programs to help working-class people into the middle class, such as support for home-buying and college scholarships and child tax credits, B) continued stoking of class resentment toward fancy White people who say “Latinx”, C) flag-waving patriotism, and D) a rhetorical shift away from demonization of immigration toward glorification of Hispanics’ immigrant ancestors. But again, I am just about the farthest thing from an expert in this area. Maybe go ask Giancarlo Sopo.

But most importantly, Republicans have to disabuse themselves of the notion that racial and ethnic voting patterns are fixed. Some Democrats have been complicit in encouraging this fiction, which is unhealthy for both parties. It’s easy to look at stats showing 65% of Hispanics voted for the Democrat and say “Hispanics vote Democratic”, but it conjures up the illusion of a structural, unchanging law of the Universe. Instead, in order to court Hispanics, Republicans have to start by simply believing that Hispanics can be successfully courted. And they have to remember that they don’t have to win over 50% of Hispanics, just to shift enough of them over to the GOP side to tip the balance away from the Democrats.

You coups, you lose

If the GOP doesn’t become a majority party, its only option for electoral success is to make it so that majority parties don’t win elections. This is hardly news — for years the GOP has been trying to tilt the scale away from majoritarianism through gerrymandering, Electoral College gaming, and command of the Senate, as well as through various schemes to suppress the vote in Black areas. That effort has been moderately successful — Bush won in 2000 and Trump won in 2016 while losing the popular vote, and the GOP holds a substantial electoral advantage in both houses of Congress. But this only works to a certain extent. And with a lot of hard work and proactive organizing, Democrats have been very effective in blocking efforts to suppress the vote.

That leaves non-democratic means. Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election by bullying state legislators to appoint fake electors failed, but leaves open the specter that future GOP incumbents would make efforts like this a standard part of their toolkit. And of course, there is the option of trying to launch coups.

There is substantial support for the coup attempt of 1/6 on the Right. Although a CBS News/YouGov poll the week after the Capitol attack found that most Republicans disapproved of the violence, it also found that fully half of Republicans said the insurrectionists were “defending freedom”, and almost half described it as an act of “patriotism”. Meanwhile, the online Right is so enamored of the idea of coups that they forced Newsmax’s Greg Kelly to reverse his condemnation of the recent coup in Myanmar:

And Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman who has called for the execution of prominent Democrats, recently received a standing ovation from about half of her Republican colleagues.

So it seems like there is a substantial Coup Caucus within the Republican party, which views violence, not elections, as the route to enduring power.

Of course anything’s possible, but this effort — and this attitude — seems incredibly likely to fail. First of all, to execute a successful coup, you need at least a substantial fraction of the military on your side. The Coup Caucus doesn’t have it. The officer corps’ repeated statements condemning the coup attempt weren’t the first such statements — they also took pains to say that they would defend the Constitution during Trump’s attempt to overturn the election, and they refused to act as Trump’s riot cops during the George Floyd protests, even issuing statements in support of the protesters. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs famously shouted Trump down in the Oval Office.

Of course, within the ranks there are sure to be those with Trumpist sympathies. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a stand-down to address extremism in the ranks. But in the lead-up to the inauguration, when the National Guard conducted a thorough investigation to make sure that people with extremist sympathies weren’t on duty in D.C. that day, they found only a very small handful of people to worry about. Presumably the same is true in the military, which has made increasing attempts to root out white supremacist ideology in its ranks since the 1980s.

And it’s worth reiterating that the Trumpists are very unpopular in the military, with a solid majority saying they’d vote for Biden well before Trump attempted to overturn the election and his supporters stormed the Capitol. Insurrectionist fantasies that the military is on their side are just that — fantasies.

As for the possibility of non-military people carrying out a successful coup…dream on. The Capitol mob was fearsome only because the police were unprepared; in the end, three of the four insurrectionists who died were killed by accident or died on the spot of medical causes. They were crazy and wild and aggressive, yes, but they were also a mob of out-of-shape aging losers.

And repeated coup attempts would probably kill the GOP’s chances of becoming a majority party. For example, Sopo, who actually worked on the Trump campaign, was horrified by the insurrection and denounced it repeatedly and vehemently:

If you can’t get a guy like this on your side, you are not going to build an enduring electoral majority in America.

So while the GOP’s answer to the question of “Hispanics or coups?” in 2020 was “Porque no los dos?”, that’s not going to work in the long run. The GOP must choose: Will it expand its tent to include Hispanic voters, or will it doom itself when half of its people insist on trying to overturn democracy with violence?

There is still time to make the smart decision.