Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s decision to send a plane of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard sparked debate on a range of issues, including how the move would play out politically. Politico published a piece last week that claimed DeSantis’s relocation of immigrants would cost him in South Florida, where many Hispanics live. The piece quoted liberal sources who said DeSantis would come off looking like the tyrants many Hispanic voters fled. But a look at political developments over the last decade show Politico is misreading Hispanic voters.
In 2008 and 2012, the Republican Party did increasingly worse with Hispanic voters nationwide. In 2004, President George W. Bush lost Hispanics 58 percent to 40 percent; in 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain lost them 67 percent to 31 percent; and in 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost Hispanic voters 71 percent to 27 percent.
Florida followed a similar trend at the presidential level. Bush won Hispanic voters 56 percent to 44 percent in 2004, McCain lost them 57 percent to 42 percent in 2008, and Romney lost them 60 percent to 39 percent in 2012. Florida Hispanics had traditionally been to the right of Hispanic voters nationwide, because many fled communist dictators or came from families that did. These voters appreciated the GOP’s tough stances against communism. But after Romney’s routing, most political analysts started to believe younger Hispanic Floridians would fall in line with national Hispanic voting trends.
Hispanic voters’ rejection of Republicans prompted some to embrace different forms of amnesty. But in 2015, then businessman Donald Trump threw a wrench in these plans by running for president. From the start, Trump called for completing the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and spoke against illegal immigrants who were criminals. While much of the GOP ran away from Trump’s views, GOP presidential primary voters embraced them and nominated Trump.
In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton did a bit worse with Hispanic voters than Obama had in the 2008 and 2012 elections, receiving 66 percent of their vote. Meanwhile, Trump did marginally better than Romney in 2012 and received 28 percent of the Hispanic vote. Interestingly in Florida, Trump did a little worse than Romney, as he lost Hispanic voters 62 percent to 35 percent.
Despite using a much harsher tone on immigration than Romney, Trump’s general stability among Hispanic voters was the first clue that anti-immigration stances would not doom the GOP.
As president, Trump did not retreat from tough immigration stances. He constantly fought for a border wall, and he detained families that came to the U.S. illegally, which liberals demonized as “family separation” and “putting children in cages.” Liberals’ attacks against Trump on family separation mirrored what liberals have said about DeSantis. They accused both Trump and DeSantis of being racist and heartless tyrants who use vulnerable immigrants as political pawns.
In 2020, Trump improved his share of the Hispanic vote, losing it 65 percent to 32 percent – the best showing for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004. In Florida, Trump only lost Hispanics 53 percent to 46 percent. His margin of defeat with Hispanic voters shrunk by 20 points in Florida despite liberals’ constant demonization campaign.
Since 2020, polls have repeatedly shown that Hispanics are becoming more conservative even though the GOP has not abandoned Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric. Liberals have derisively blamed Hispanics' warming to the GOP on misinformation, but Hispanic voters are diverse just like other voting blocs and have an array of concerns. Democrats’ failure on inflation and woke policies have dismayed many Hispanics, and some even want tougher approaches on immigration, which correspond with GOP messaging.
Despite Trump’s seemingly unfriendly rhetoric, many of the same Hispanics that Democrats claim DeSantis will lose voted for Trump in 2020. Therefore, it’s unlikely DeSantis will shed Hispanic support over Martha’s Vineyard. The media is clinging to out-of-date conventional narratives about Hispanics, an error that has caused them to miss the real concerns of Hispanic voters.
Todd Carney is a lawyer and frequent contributor to RealClearPolitics. He earned his juris doctorate from Harvard Law School.