What The El Paso Moment portends for the Republican Party

By Mike Madrid, Special to CalMatters | 

For more than 20 years, political observers have pointed to California’s Proposition 187 campaign as the seminal moment in Latino political consciousness–a year in history when Latinos across generational, educational, economic and national divides united in a singular voice against a threat to the community.

Latinos have experienced a similar event nationally—The El Paso Moment—when a deranged racist, whose rhetoric at times matched the President of the United States, gunned down 22 people and injured dozens more. 

Resentment and racism toward Latinos has been simmering in the underbelly of American society for a long time. But in the past few years, this dark force has risen to the surface, even as many denied it was happening. 

The El Paso Moment will mark the day in our history when people could no longer pretend there wasn’t an explosion of violent actions and attitudes towards the fastest-growing segment of our nation’s population. 

Latinos were targeted for slaughter and the President’s words and deeds fomented the event and–as more and more Republican officials are acknowledging–the GOP has been complicit by its silence.

As the Latinization of America takes hold, the culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s are being replaced by racial conflict as this rapid change threatens the very concept of our American identity. 

The social mores and values that defined political conflict between the parties in the decades past has morphed into a larger conflict about what we look like, the sound of our last names and what our culture will become.

We’ve seen the conflict personified by the rise of an angry white population–once fragmented in pock marks of society but now crystallized after finding its voice—behaving like an aggrieved, racial minority.

No, most white people are not worried Latinos are “invading,” as the El Paso shooter and the President of the United States have complained. No, most white people in America do not harbor more racist sentiments than any other group. 

But the silence from far too many is deafening. The U.S. is set to become majority-minority by 2045. Four states including California are already there and many more will be there soon. And that has some people freaked out.

In El Paso, Americans clearly saw what Latinos have been saying about what is happening to us in this country. Too many in the United States do not want our “kind” here. The President of the United States of America was elected largely on an anti-Latino platform. 

His words have been textbook definitions of racism when referring to judges of Hispanic descent and his comments encouraging politicians of color “go back to where they came from” speak for themselves. It has become the new norm. 

This change is no more evident than in the makeup of the Republican Party, which has been remade in Trump’s image. 

The Party of Lincoln devolved into a party defined by white identity politics, so it’s no surprise Trump enjoys an 82% approval rating among California Republicans, who are 80% white. It’s also no surprise that Orange County, the conservative bastion of California that’s grown increasingly diverse, just flipped blue.

This cancerous form of anti-immigrant politics has become central to California Republicanism, so much so that John Cox, the so-called moderate Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2018, ran the most anti-immigrant and anti-Latino campaign in the state’s history. 

Unsurprisingly, he earned the worst GOP outcome for a gubernatorial race in a century by running on building the wall, needing Mexicans to “work in our fields” and parroting a racist president. Not even in 1994 were Republicans running on such overtly anti-Latino positions.

Instead of mixing smart politics with the morality they claim to possess, Trump and the GOP are turning away from growing voting blocs and chasing frightened white voters clinging to some mythical construct of an America that was “great” almost exclusively for their racial group, laying waste to the idea that we can all be American.

As we saw in 2018, when a historic number of Latinos voted in midterms for the first time, the Latino voting bloc is wide awake and engaged–and that was before we faced an existential crisis in El Paso. Latinos are facing an unprecedented rise in power in California and that trend is only growing. 

The El Paso moment did not start the formation of Latino political identity, but it will be known as the event that solidified it. 

Mike Madrid is a GOP consultant, former political director of the California Republican Party, and a visiting professor at the University of Southern California where he teaches “Race, class and partisanship: America in the Great Transformation” at the Center for the Future of Politics, madrid@grassrootslab.com. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California's Capitol works and why it matters.

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