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Op-Ed: The Hill: What blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story

June 21, 2021

The Hill
By Brooke Rollins

If you ask Vice President Kamala Harris about the Biden administration’s border crisis, she likely won’t have an answer to the question as she has not bothered to travel to the border. In fact, the vice president and the Democratic Party may even see the border crisis as an opportunity for future electoral successes, but recent elections in Texas tell a different story.

The recent election of a Republican mayor in McAllen, Texas, is a harbinger for Texas’s future — and our nation’s.

In fact, South Texas has been a Democratic stronghold for generations. That’s partly because Texas and the South were Democratic strongholds for generations. After Reconstruction, the Democratic Party established itself as the sectional champion of Lost-Cause ideology and its fruits, and thereby kept a political stranglehold on the region for nearly a century. After 1876, Texas didn’t have a Republican U.S. senator until 1961. It didn’t have a Republican governor until 1979. It didn’t have a Republican state legislature until 2003.

Old ways die hard. They die hard especially in places where roots run deep, and the habit of identification transcends any present reality of action or belief. There’s nothing wrong with that — you might call it an element of conservatism — but it does mean that when those ways change, something significant is underway.

The media may report it as simply as Mexican Americans are leaving the Democratic Party. The truth is the Democrats left them some time ago — and now, Mexican Americans are voting accordingly. Nationally, Democrats espouse a series of propositions that are simply unacceptable to the Mexican-American voter. Just look at what the progressive left or so-called Squad in Congress endorses: promoting transgender ideology, dismissing religion, closing small businesses, eschewing traditional marriage, getting rid of big trucks, attacking gun ownership, and on and on. These are nonstarters in south Texas, and south Texans are voting accordingly.

So why did south Texas stay Democratic for so long? Simply put, ethnicity politics. Texas has always been home to many peoples, including a destination for immigrants across the globe. In fact, for centuries, Texas was a battleground amongst Anglos, Mexicans and Indians. Don Frazier of Schreiner University in Kerrville, one of the best Texas historians alive today, says that Texas was the only organically occurring multicultural frontier in American history. He’s right about that. And that circumstance brings with it a rich synthesis of cultures — and also conflict.

One of the ways that conflict expressed itself was in the enduring south Texas allegiance to the Democratic Party, long after the rest of Texas went Republican. The past generation has seen Democrats nationally embrace the politics of identity, and it happened in Texas as it did elsewhere. The Democratic appeal was simply this: we are the party of Mexican Americans. Implicit within that appeal was a defense of that community’s (putative) interest against an Anglo-ruling majority.

For a while, it seemed to work. Texas went red, but Mexican-American majority areas — in San Antonio, in Laredo, in the Rio Grande Valley, in El Paso — stayed resolutely blue. That lasted — until it didn’t. Democrats were shocked by the 2020-election outcomes, in which a swath of south Texas, all the way up the Mexican border from Brownsville to Laredo, abruptly broke toward then-President Trump by double-digit percentages. Tiny Zapata County, Texas, with all of 14,000 people, was the sort of place — rural and 85 percent Mexican American — that was supposed to remain Democratic forever. It went majority for Trump. As noted earlier, just a few days ago, the city of McAllen recently elected Republican Javier Villalobos as mayor. McAllen’s demography, like Zapata County, is roughly 85 percent Mexican American. 

That isn’t because south Texans or Mexican Americans are somehow socially retrograde — what progressive ideologues would want you to believe. It’s because they have a different, and altogether more grounded, concept of their own interest. We see this again and again across the country these days: Americans who are supposed to be divided on issues of race and ethnicity are instead coming together on issues of class, opportunity and prosperity. Though there is a real history in Texas of racial discrimination against Mexican Americans, the last real vestiges of that era are at least half a century in the past — and Mexican Americans today have largely the same desires as everyone else. They want good schools, good health care and a fair shot at the American Dream.

A party that doesn’t speak to that, and increasingly peddles a victimhood narrative that insults the dignity of its intended audience, is going to start losing. That’s exactly what’s happening now.

Zapata County is a harbinger. McAllen is a harbinger. What we see there is going to repeat itself, over and over — among Tejanos, among New Mexicans, among Puerto Ricans in Orlando, among African Americans in the rural South, among Asian Americans in California — until the left is compelled to assemble a coalition on something other than strictly demographic lines. The left’s generational bid to win America through ethnic change is over, even if they don’t know it. It culminated in something so shocking they still haven’t quite realized or accepted it.

It culminated in a conservative revival. And that revival is just beginning.

Brooke L. Rollins is president and chief executive officer at the America First Policy Institute and previously served as an assistant to the president and Director of the Domestic Policy Council under the Trump administration.