SAN DIEGO – People always complain that Latino immigrants displace native-born Americans from jobs and neighborhoods.
But this year, Latinos have been displaced from the political pecking order by the new kids on the block: working-class whites.
Que paso? The 2016 presidential election was supposed to let Latinos flex their muscles. After years of demographic growth, Latinos were ready to pick a president. It’s about numbers; an estimated 12 million Latino voters are expected to cast ballots, out of more than 26 million Latinos who are eligible to vote. And atonement: Four years ago, the autopsy for Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid suggested that the GOP must make amends with Latinos in order to survive.
Given who they chose as their nominee, Republicans must have decided that survival is overrated. Now they’re smitten with working-class whites.
These voters are Donald Trump’s bread and butter. On their behalf, the GOP nominee promises to renegotiate trade deals and return manufacturing jobs.
And Hillary Clinton is also interested in these voters. Many of them are union members, and organized labor is a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition. And so Clinton has stopped giving speeches on Wall Street and started her working-class rap about how the American Dream is out of reach for many working-class Americans.
Yet, the courtship can get complicated when Clinton tries to dismiss Trump by attacking his supporters. Half of those folks, she told those gathered at a New York City fundraiser last week, fit in a “basket of deplorables” because they’re “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.”
The remarks were shameful and condescending, and Clinton should never have made them. And despite the spin from her enablers in the media, she didn’t really apologize. What she said in a statement was: “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,' and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half' – that was wrong.” Then she changed the subject and laid out a litany of things about Trump that she found deplorable. Some apology.
Clinton wants to cherry pick Trump voters and make a pitch for the redeemable 50 percent who “feel that the government has let them down” and are “desperate for change.” Those are the folks who, she says, need empathy from the enlightened Manhattan elites.
The former Secretary of State has even visited the working class in their natural habitat. In July, she toured a steel-wire-product manufacturer in Pennsylvania’s Cambria County, which is more than 90 percent white. She told the crowd that she would defend “places that have been left out and left behind.”
So when did Latinos get left out and left behind in this election?
For Republicans, interest may have tapered off in February after a GOP debate in South Carolina where Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio got into a verbal shoving match over who was el mas macho, where Cruz actually challenged Rubio to argue en espanol. The cringe-worthy spectacle suggested that Latinos aren’t ready for primetime.
Meanwhile, Democrats probably stopped courting Latinos a couple months later when it became clear that Trump was on track to secure the GOP nomination. The businessman had by then so deeply offended Latinos that they gladly flocked to the Democratic Party without requiring anything in return.
In the big picture, Latinos and working-class whites have been on a collision course for decades. When blue-collar workers gripe about losing a job, the culprit is often either a Latino immigrant or a trade deal with Latin American countries.
Just listen to the white reader who was furious over my Labor Day column telling working-class folks to quit whining. “Maybe if the 1 percent were not so greedy as to ship the jobs to Mexico, working whites would still have jobs,” he wrote.
Others blame lost jobs on immigrants – especially if they come from Mexico and Latin America. In his immigration speech in Phoenix, Trump advanced the sketchy claim that “most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers.”
This thesis is simplistic and self-defeating. Americans don’t have bad trade deals. And we’re not attracting bad immigrants. But we do have some native-born people with a bad attitude, some of whom made bad decisions and bad mistakes such as thinking they were entitled to keep the same job for 30 years. Now they’re looking for someone to be the bad guy. And, in the long-term, that'll be bad for them and the country.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.