WASHINGTON ― Black and Latino House Democrats are still trying to process what happened on Election Day.
It’s still too early to determine everything that factored into Hillary Clinton’s loss. Right now, preliminary analysis shows turnout was down. A number of those who voted for President Barack Obama flipped to vote for Donald Trump, and some voters who hadn’t turned out in recent cycles came out for Trump. Clinton lost Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania in part due to her weakness among white, working-class voters, while winning a strong majority of the Latino and black vote.
Democratic lawmakers have spent the last few days listening to the people in their districts before returning to Washington, D.C., next week.
Rep. Marc Veasey, of Texas, says his black and Latino constituents there are telling him they feel “unwelcome.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) wants to know what the Democratic National Committee does now.
In Arizona, Rep. Ruben Gallego said, he saw white men in a pick-up truck cheering and waving a Confederate flag out of their window.
And Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) had always anticipated an enthusiasm gap ― “Barack Obama was a Jackie Robinson moment for African Americans” ― but not one like this.
For all four, the unknowns about what lies ahead are daunting.
“People want to know exactly what a Trump presidency is going to mean,” Veasey told The Huffington Post two days after the election.
Veasey plans to talk to his colleagues who represent the rural Americans in the Rust Belt states and ask them why they think voters went for Trump. Because in his district there is “a lot of shock.”
“Some of our friends who are white and conservative, or apolitical, and they supported Trump, don’t understand the fact that for a lot of people in the African-American and Latino community, a lot of the things said by the Republican nominee were very hurtful, and very painful,” Veasey said.
Throughout the campaign, Trump told black voters that they had nothing to lose because they were “living in hell,” and vowed to be a “law and order” president. The day he announced his candidacy, Trump said Mexico was sending criminals and “rapists” to the U.S. Later in the cycle, he questioned the credibility of an American-born federal judge based on his Mexican heritage. He vowed to build a wall along America’s southern border and increase deportations. He called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the U.S. ― a proposal he has since walked back.
The fact that half of those who voted elected Trump to the office of the presidency makes blacks, Latinos and other minorities “feel unwelcome,” Veasey said.
“It makes them scared about the future for themselves and their children,” he added. “We need to understand why for a certain segment of the country those sorts of things were really just not a big deal to them.”
Veasey traveled throughout the election, stumping for Clinton, working to get out the vote. But no one asked him to go to Michigan, he said. No one ever thought there was going to be an issue with the Rust Belt states. “Everyone was completely caught off guard by that,” he said.
At a breakfast with family two days after the election, Grijalva said the atmosphere was “somber.”
“There was no quick chatter,” he said. And the “sense of isolation ― of ‘damn, we lost’ ― is palatable,” he said of Latinos in his district.
“We had all of ourselves convinced, and I include myself in that, that this guy couldn’t win,” Grijalva said, noting that the party failed to recognize that rural America is hurting economically. He praised the grassroots campaigning of organizations like Voto Latino, and Mi Familia Voto, which helped boost registration in key states, and said that without them the turnout would have been even lower.
“Which begs the question, what does the DNC do?” he said. “We need to clean house over there.”
Grijalva faulted party officials for sticking to a middle-of-the-road strategy, and is backing progressive Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to be the new chair.
“That DNC vehicle has got to change, it’s got to become more multi-ethnic, multicultural. And that means new leadership, and a new board,” he said. “I’m backing Keith because he would bring that inclusion process, and new creative people.”
Every aspect of the party needs to re-evaluate its positions, Grijalva said. Leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus can’t afford to be quiet. “If they’re middle of the road, and quiet, and don’t take a position, that’s not helpful to our community,” he said.
And if the DNC is “just sitting there on the sidelines, what good does it do us?”
“They were still counseling candidates not to get too immersed in the immigration issue ― I mean, Jesus,” he said of party officials.
There’s no doubt in Grijalva’s mind that Trump will refuse to renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children to get temporary work authorization.
“This is about raw power that [Trump] has, and this is about how you resist that,” he continued. “You can’t have somebody trying to play the middle when he’s undoing DACA.”
Gallego, who represents Arizona’s 7th District, also worried about DACA’s future.
“Here is a man who has clearly used racist language, and questioned the credibility of Mexican Americans,” Gallego said.
That makes him fearful for his constituents. “They feel very uncomfortable,” he said. “[Trump] has made very clear to them how he feels about Latinos.”
Democrats are already trying to figure out what methods they have at their disposal to block Trump’s efforts to undo DACA and protect those who are currently its recipients from deportation, Gallego said.
The party will also have a lot of soul-searching to do when lawmakers return, given the election outcome.
“We are going to have a very spirited DNC chairmanship election,” Gallego said. “We need to examine all of the leadership roles within the Democratic party as well as policies to make sure we are putting together a combination to win not just in presidential years but in all elections.”
Jeffries plans to keep one eye on how Trump runs the White House and another on 2018.
“If Donald Trump governs in the way he campaigns, it’s important for communities of color to rebuke him and take back control of Congress,” he said.
Jeffries expressed disappointment that more voters did not come out to defend Obama’s legacy, but took some comfort in the fact that everyone will be watching Republicans now.
“They can no longer falsely blame Obama, because they are in charge of the entire capital city,” he said.
“Look, Americans have often overcome adversity,” Jeffries said. “We’ve gone through slavery, we’ve gone through Jim Crow, the Cuban missile crisis, and 9/11 ― we can overcome a Donald Trump presidency.”