Meet the Mexican Americans in California who are voting for Donald Trump

Kim Bojórquez
·7 min read

The Spanish version of this article is available here.

Linda Martinez-Hanna gets called a traitor.

When she walked into a room at family gatherings last year, her presence prompted relatives to say, “Alli viene la Republicana” – “There comes the Republican” – as they trickled out of the room.

Most of her friends, those who she thought would “never in a million years” turn on her, no longer speak to her.

The isolation worsened in 2018, when she wanted to stop hiding her opinions and joined Latinos for Trump as an outspoken activist.

“I wanted to show people that being a minority, you could be Republican,” said Martinez-Hanna, a 59-year-old resident of El Dorado Hills. “It throws people completely off, and they don’t like it.”

Martinez-Hanna is a Christian and a first-generation Mexican American who grew up in the U.S.-Mexico border town of Eagle Pass, Texas before settling down in California. She is the daughter of Mexican parents, who migrated to the U.S. in the late 40s and early 50s.

Support for Trump among California Latinos has grown since 2016, according to polls, despite concern in the community about his immigration policies and disparaging remarks he’s made about immigrants throughout his presidency.

Mike Madrid, co-founder of the Lincoln Project and an expert in Latino voting trends, said Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has yet to win over Hispanic men in the same way Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California released this week shows 57% of likely Latino voters in California – who Madrid said are mostly of Mexican descent – plan to vote for Biden and 33% for Trump. About 6% are undecided.

In the last election cycle, when Trump faced off against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, 12% of likely Latino voters told PPIC in the October before the election that said they were casting their ballot for Trump, while 71% said they were voting for Clinton.

Trump appeals to young, U.S.-born Latino men under the age of 40, Madrid said.

“They are taking on the similar voting patterns of non-college-educated white males,” he said. “I think it’s the very telling story of assimilation in America, especially amongst men.”

Geraldo Cadava, author of the book “The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump,” said conservative Latinos are more diverse than the Cuban-exile community or Catholic Latinos with anti-abortion views.

He also dismisses the idea that the Latino conservative movement started in Florida.

“Hispanics who were on the ground first trying to organize support for Republican candidates were Mexican Americans from California in the 50s and 60s,” Cadava said. “Latino advocacy groups are run by progressive and Democratic groups who get the most attention. So, in many ways, Latino Republicans outside of Florida are kind of invisible and unknown.”

Latinos for Trump movement

Marco Gutierrez, originally from Jalisco, Mexico, used to work in the real estate business, but faced financial ruin during the Great Recession of 2008.

“That was a wake up call for me because ... my American Dream went away,” the Discovery Bay resident said.

When Trump ran for office in 2016 and focused his platform on job growth, Gutierrez listened, and the premise behind the Latinos for Trump movement was born.

At one point his Latinos for Trump social media accounts contained a total of 20,000 followers. Today, the number is closer to 10,000. The drop in followers, he said, is due to voters starting their own Latinos for Trump groups or joining others.

“My organization’s philosophy was to bring balance to the low, disproportionate participation” in elections by Hispanic communities, he said.

Like Martinez-Hanna, Gutierrez shares Trump’s stance on abortion, limiting immigration to the U.S. and strengthening borders.

Four years later, he still plans to vote for Trump in 2020, but less enthusiastically so.

Gutierrez said he’s grown frustrated with the lack of progress on the U.S.-Mexico border wall, the president’s response to the pandemic and refusal to provide clarity about his tax returns.

Former President George W. Bush is often hailed as the “model” for how Republicans can recruit Latino voters, in part, due to his moderate stance on immigration, Cadava said. Bush’s family spent years cultivating relationships between Latino leaders and voters in Texas, a state home to a large number of eligible Latino voters.

While he was the governor of Texas, Bush also appointed Alberto Gonzales to serve as a Texas Supreme Court justice, and eventually named him as the first Hispanic to serve as White House Counsel during his presidency.

A former Democrat, Martinez-Hanna said the earliest Republican president she voted for was former President Ronald Reagan, during his second term. His amnesty law allowed nearly 3 million immigrants a pathway to become citizens, which was viewed favorably among Latinos.

Even if the Republican Party has moved in a different direction since former presidents Reagan and Bush, Cadava said it could be difficult for loyal Latino Republicans to “shake their faith in the party.”

Whether the Republican candidate is a figure like Bush or Trump, Cadava believes the Republican Party will continue to win between a quarter to a third of the Latino vote due to partisan loyalty.

“There’s no reason for me to believe that that support will drop off the map,” he said. “There has still been a presence, even after Proposition 187.”

Proposition 187

Cadava calls Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that passed in 1994 that barred unauthorized immigrants from receiving public benefits, a turning point between California Latino conservatives and the Republican Party.

Even after Proposition 187, Latino Republicans have never disappeared from the scene and Cadava said some Latinos supported the ballot initiative because they believed that undocumented immigrants drained the state’s economy. California Latino Republicans also have a prominent presence in organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, according to Cadava, because business and trade interests are important to them.

“Whether you’re white or you’re Hispanic, economic opportunities are not there,” Madrid said. “Trump’s message, whatever that is, even if it’s simply anger, is resonant at the moment.”

From Proposition 187 to Trump, rage has acted as an effective mobilizer among Latino voters, he said.

“That’s really the only thing that has seen Latinos vote in higher than historic numbers,” Madrid said. “What happens when Trump is gone? Do Latinos go back to a traditional, low-propensity voting pattern, or can (we) create a habit of voting?”

The future of Latino Republicans

Acknowledging that California is no battleground state, Gutierrez doesn’t believe either political party does enough to appeal to Latino voters in California.

“I would hope that we just stop being ... a prize for the right or the left to be won,” he said.

Cadava said Republican and Democratic parties need to not take Latino voters for granted and “stop with this idea that Latino voters are naturally Republicans and natural conservatives or natural liberals and Democrats.”

After former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost his bid to Barack Obama in 2012, the Republican National Committee released a report that showed the GOP needed to reach out to more Latino voters.

“We need to campaign among Hispanic, Black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too,” according to the report. “We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities.”

As the Latino electorate gets larger, some expect both political parties will make a concerted effort to reach those voters.

“We now know that (the Republican Party) went in a different direction and really kind of doubled down on their white base,” Cadava said. “I don’t think it will be a recipe for success long into the future. So they’re going to have to figure out ways to expand their support ... and continue broadening their base.”