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Latinos are today's Reagan Democrats — so Rubio is likely to be Trump's VP

Donald Trump pats Marco Rubio on the shoulder.
Rebecca Blackwell
More Amigo Than Enemigo: Former President Donald Trump pats Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the shoulder at a campaign rally at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Miami.

COMMENTARY More Latinos today are apt to identify with a conservative white Cuban like Florida Senator Marco Rubio — which is why Donald Trump will probably tap him as his running mate.

Now that 81-year-old Joe Biden has petulantly stormed out of his party’s intervention and refused to give up the presidential candidate car keys, I see a greater likelihood of two things.

First, that Donald Trump will be the next president, unless he does something like stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody. (Oh, wait, I forgot, he could do that and still win.)

Second, that Florida Senator Marco Rubio will be Trump’s vice-presidential pick at next week’s Republican convention in Milwaukee.

Why will “Little Marco,” as Trump gets a sneering kick out of calling him, be the MAGA Mate?

Because, to ensure that he scores battleground states like Arizona and Nevada, former President Trump needs to keep poaching Latino voters from President Biden and the Democrats.

Tapping the Cuban-American Rubio helps ensure more Latino voters morph into what more pundits like strategist Mike Madrid call them today: the new Reagan Democrats.

READ MORE: 700 reasons why Rubio's 'show trial' claim for Trump is disgraceful

What, the Millennials and Gen-Zers will ask, are Reagan Democrats? Those were traditional blue-collar Democrats who, in the 1980s, voted for Republican President Ronald Reagan — because his Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, had presided over wage-ravaging double-digit inflation in the 1970s.

They help explain why, in the 2020s, so many traditional Latino Democrats are abandoning Biden for Trump.

Any economist will remind you that inflation hits people of color in this country, Blacks and Latinos, harder than it punches whites. That’s particularly true today because rental housing, or the lack of it, is such a haunting facet of this decade’s nagging inflation equation: more than half of Blacks and Latinos rent, compared to just a quarter of whites.

But here’s where Blacks and Latinos hit a fork in the political road in spite of that shared economic path.

Democrats seem clueless that even most Latinos feel illegal immigration is out of control — or that inflación is synonymous with socialismo.

Did I say “people of color” earlier? In the 1980s, Latinos were more apt to think of themselves that way. Not today, when they’re a much larger share of, well, the face of America. While Black voters may be more inclined to stick with Biden and the Democrats — whose policies they still consider a better overall bet for people of color — more Latinos may be inclined to pivot to Trump and the Republicans because they consider themselves part of the white cohort.

That’s why Rubio is also a better vice-presidential bet for Trump today, Latino-wise, than he would have been for Reagan in the 1980s.

Vile vulgarity

Back then, most Latinos would have felt little if any kinship with a Cuban-American whose ancestry represents only 4% of the predominantly Mexican-American Latino population. In fact, given the glaring immigration advantages Cubans enjoy over other Latinos, Rubio probably would have alienated Latinos from the ticket in those days.

Puerto Rican voter Juan Ojeda attends a grand opening event at the "Latino Americans for Trump" office in Reading, Pa., on June 12, 2024.
Joe Lamberti
Puerto Rican voter Juan Ojeda attends a grand opening event at the "Latino Americans for Trump" office in Reading, Pa., on June 12, 2024.

In 2024, however — when most Latinos tell pollsters they, too, feel illegal immigration is a major problem on the U.S. southern border — they’re more prone to see an arch-conservative white cubano like Rubio as more amigo than enemigo.

Most Democrats seem clueless about that; they hear Trump’s vile anti-immigrant vulgarity and assume Latinos embrace Biden. The party also doesn’t seem to be aware that inflation has a PTSD quality for Latinos, since it plays such a large role in what they and their parents and grandparents were escaping in Latin America to begin with.

Remember the Mexican peso crisis of the 1990s? Fifty-two percent inflation. Hyperinflation in Brazil in those days hit 228%. In Argentina, 1,000%. Not to mention Venezuela just six years ago — when it reached almost a million percent.

And don't forget this: to many Latinos, inflación is synonymous with socialismo — and no one’s more underhanded than Trump at equating Democrats with socialists.

Biden may well be right when he insists that under his administration Latino unemployment and child poverty are lower than they were under Trump. Or that Latino healthcare access and small business investment are higher. And the impact of inflation and immigration on Latinos’ lives may well be exaggerated in comparison.

But all that may well not matter. Biden won some 60% of the Latino vote in 2020 — yet a New York Times/Siena College poll shows him garnering just 47% now to Trump’s 46%.

That’s a big reason Trump will likely be the next president.

With likely a big assist from Little Marco.

Want more stories about the Americas? Sign up for WLRN’s Americas Report newsletter and we’ll send a round up of the most important news and stories from the hemisphere, every Thursday morning. Sign up here.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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