Never mind Texas. Don’t mess with New Mexico!
Apparently, it’s the Land of Enchantment you have to be careful with if you’re a demagogue running for president who portrays Mexico as corrupt and Mexicans as predators.
If you’re peddling insults and intolerance, you might want to steer clear of those parts. Latinos make up as much as 48 percent of the state’s population, and politics there has more sting than a bucket full of scorpions.
For New Mexicans, the toughest decisions often come down to a choice not between red and blue, but between red and green. While it has a Republican governor, the state is solidly Democratic. Most people know who they’re going to vote for, and the only unanswered question is what kind of chile to put on their enchiladas.
My father’s family comes from New Mexico. My grandparents were married in the southern part of the state, where two of my uncles were born. I still have cousins who live there. And I’ve covered political happenings in the state – from nearby vantage points such as Arizona, Texas and California – for nearly 20 years.
And so I wasn’t at all surprised when Donald Trump’s appearance at a campaign event in Albuquerque was disrupted last week by activists who oppose his message. There were protests inside the arena and rioting outside. Protesters clashed with police, waved Mexican flags and destroyed property.
Let’s be clear. There’s no defending violence and mayhem. The protesters were out of line.
Still, what I find appealing is that – in a country where many Republicans who a few months ago were declaring “never Trump” are now embracing the businessman as their party’s nominee – New Mexicans aren’t going to play that game. They’re standing their ground.
It starts at the top, where Republican Gov. Susana Martinez refused to appear with her party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Last month, she called Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it unrealistic and irresponsible. Four years ago, Martinez said much the same thing about Mitt Romney’s plan for illegal immigrants to “self-deport.”
Martinez spared herself from having to spend an afternoon with Trump by claiming she was “really busy” and “focused on what is going on here in New Mexico.”
One of the things “going on” in New Mexico is that a lot of people in both parties seem to be disgusted with the mouthy mogul from Manhattan.
In most places in America, the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock aboard the Mayflower in 1620 are considered the first settlers of the New World.
But in New Mexico – where the capital, Santa Fe, was founded in 1607 – the world was already in full swing by the time the pilgrims came ashore. It’s also surrounded by a handful of other Southwestern states – Arizona, Texas, Utah, Colorado – that were, like New Mexico, once part of old Mexico.
So it’s not surprising that the immigration debate takes a different form in New Mexico than it does in other states. In the South, Midwest or Northeast, when discussing illegal immigration, the narrative is about an unabated flow of unlawful intruders who trample our borders at will and sometimes compound the insult by committing crimes when they get here. But in New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest, you’ll find plenty of people who think the real danger in this debate are those people who divide the population, stoke racial hatred and turn immigrants into scapegoats for all of society’s problems.
As we have learned over the last year, Trump is the constant critic who doesn’t take criticism well. He responded to Martinez’s snub by accusing her of “not doing the job” and blaming her for the state’s economic woes.
Is this the kinder and gentler Trump who many commentators predicted would appear as the billionaire gets ready for the general election? Is attacking, in such personal terms, the only Latina governor in the country part of Trump’s strategy for winning Latino support?
Amid all this acrimony, it’s mind-boggling to think that some political observers keep suggesting the governor might make a good running mate for Trump.
Wouldn’t the fact that Martinez is obviously repulsed by the creep, and refuses to be seen with him, present a slight logistical challenge?
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.