Forty years after the GOP made a bid for these moderate voters, they are still up for grabs--but Democrats need to make a move
Cursive...a lost art.
As you can imagine, I have more to say in response to this important essay than I have time to write here or anyone has the interest in reading. My quick reaction is this: the notion that groups representing non-white voters have to prove their "loyalty' before politicians will talk to them is proof of how fundamentally anti-democratic the GOP has been for a long time. Secondly, the "competition" between Hispanics and Blacks in the US is in large part an invention of whiteness that feels satisfied to see the "colored people" fighting amongst themselves. This doesn't mean you will never hear a Black American express disgust with Hispanics undercutting them for job opportunities; you will. But this attitude, where it exists, is more complex by far than it is ever presented. Thirdly, Hispanic is not now nor has ever been a decription of that social contruction we call "race". Hispanic is useful only as a descriptor of linguistic group, although we deploy it as a racial descriptor. Latino means absolutely nothing and we should stop using it. Latin America, indeed, is a term that should also be in the wastebasket since it obscures the obvious fact that the countries south of the United States have very different histories, geographies, populations, cultures, colonial pasts, racial make-ups, and political-economic realities, not to mention a grand variety of indigenous people who speak Spanish as a second language if they speak it at all. I know no one from what we call "Latin America" who refers to themselves as Latin American: that should be a hint to everyone. Furthermore, there are Black people in Spanish-speaking countries, but in terms of our data, they don't get to be Black. So how good is our data? The answer? Not very good. How well can anyone act on bad data? Not at all. We want people to fit into blocks so that it's easier for us to decide whose event to go to, where to concentrate ad dollars, etc. But people vote based on their real lives, not the lives (or identities) we invent for them.
Sadly, economic issues are merely cover for the racial animosity among a share of the male Latino voter just like a large share of non-Latino White voters. This study by Rudy Alimillo published in the Du Bois Review, "Hispanics Para Trump?" found that:
"like non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics higher in denial of racism were more likely to vote Trump in 2016, as well as for Romney in the 2012 election. In addition, denial of racism is the strongest predictor of support for Trump among Hispanics, above even party identification and ideology."
The best Democrats can do is increase turnout among the vast majority of Hispanic Americans who look beyond race in their election decisions.
"First, is there a 'Latino voter' who exists as a discrete category? I am not sure there is."
That's a key point. In fact, I suspect that you really wanted to say something more emphatic: There is NOT a discrete and monolithic category of "Latino voters".
Here's a place where liberals and progressives get into trouble by an over-reliance on the notion that race is a singularly mobilizing category and by treating "Latino" as a singular racial category within the imagination of race in the US. It might be a single category from the perspective of many whites (both left and right) but it plainly isn't from the perspective of the people designated by the category. (D.P. Snyder is making this point more eloquently than I can here in your comments, but it's really fundamental.) Quite aside from the big differences depending on ties to parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, there's generational differences that track pretty strongly with other histories of immigration, e.g., the longer a family has been resident in and citizens of the United States, the less likely they are to be sympathetic to newer arrivals especially if they come from other parts of Latin America than a long-resident extended family. White progressives just assume that if someone like Trump goes off on a racist rant about the people now crossing the southern border (primarily Central Americans, Venezuelans, with some Mexicans) that a fourth-generation Chicano family in Los Angeles or a third-generation Argentinian family will be profoundly offended, but that doesn't necessarily track at all.