Last week, the nation selected a president whose share of the Latino vote was at a historic low. Based on polling that reached a wide variety of Latin voters nationwide, including those who voted early, Latino Decisions estimates that only 18 percent of Latino voters supported Donald Trump. While some in the media cite exit polling data to conclude that 29 percent of Latino voters supported Trump, most informed observers would immediately question whether that determination can possibly reflect the substantial increase in the number of Latinos who voted - over one million more in comparison to 2012 - and the unprecedented surge in early voting by Latinos across many states.
It is extremely unlikely - barring a level of self-hatred not previously demonstrated by this community - that Latinos came out in significant numbers to vote for someone who launched his candidacy by slandering Mexican immigrants and continued an anti-immigrant drumbeat throughout the campaign. The heavy Latino presence in post-election protest demonstrations should confirm that Latino voters reacted to the Trump campaign as they have to similar campaigns at state and local level in the past - by overwhelmingly rejecting the purveyor of the nativist rhetoric. It would be wise for everyone, most especially those who advise the president-elect, to acknowledge that Latino hostility toward Trump drove outcomes in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, and to recognize that Trump goes into his presidency with a serious Latino credibility and support gap.
Ultimately, it may not matter whether Trump sees the problem as needing to garner more support in the Latino voting community or as needing to maintain at least the level of support he received this year in any re-election campaign. Either way, the demographic growth of the Latino voting community means that shoring up Latino support ought to be a significant concern. While the story of this 2016 election centers on the so-called Rust Belt, the next and future presidential elections will have more to do with the Brown Belt - the states with significant and increasing numbers of Latino voters stretching from California through the southwest to Texas. In the near future, presidential elections in Arizona, with its 11 electoral votes, will be even more heavily influenced by the Latino vote, and the big prize of Texas, with 38 electoral votes, should follow soon after. Additionally, Florida, with 29 electoral votes and a significant and more conservative Cuban-American vote, will see a rising influence of voters from other less-conservative Latino subgroups.
Demographic projections alone require attention to the Latino vote, but a multi-year energizing of the Latino voting community, with the effect of permanently and substantially increasing civic participation among Latinos, could accelerate and increase the group's impact in critical electoral states. This year's jump in Latino turnout already demonstrates that many Latino voters were motivated to vote in order to oppose a candidate who demonized the Latino community in his campaign rhetoric and policy proposals. If the electoral victory of that candidate catalyzes increased naturalizations, voter registration, and civic participation among Latinos, the "energizing effect" could yield an even greater impact of Latinos in 2020.
This is not a theoretical prospect. President-elect Trump and his advisors need only look to the political transformation of California beginning two decades ago to find a historical example. Most political observers identify the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994 and Republican Governor Pete Wilson's championing of that initiative during his re-election campaign as the major catalysts of California's transition from competitive state to the solidly Democratic bastion it is today. Proposition 187 triggered in California the rise in naturalizations, registrations, and participation that the 2016 presidential election could jump-start nationwide. More important, the Latino vote, much of which might have been up for grabs previously, became a solid anti-Republican vote, as Pete Wilson became an all-purpose bogeyman and party symbol for Latinos, to the great and enduring detriment of the Republican Party in California.
Of course, Wilson might have avoided the long-term effects of his demonization of Latino immigrants to secure re-election had he chosen to govern differently than he campaigned. Instead, Wilson doubled down, repeatedly targeting immigrants in policy and in court actions. Then, in 1996, he championed the equally execrable Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action. Proposition 209 seemed clearly targeted at the state's largest minority group, Latinos; that motivation was acknowledged years later by the initiative's chief private proponent.
The lesson is clear: President-elect Trump must govern differently than he campaigned, including dropping the nativist rhetoric, leaving anti-immigrant campaign advisors outside his Administration, and altering policy proposals, including abandoning any proposed mass deportations. If he does not, he runs the great risk of repeating the mistakes of Pete Wilson, jeopardizing his own potential re-election in 2020, and dealing serious long-term harm to his party.