I’m Chuck Rocha.
I’m Linda Chavez.
I’m Isvett Verde, and this is “The Argument.” [THEME MUSIC PLAYS]
OK, so we’re not “The Argument hosts you’re used to. I’m Isvett, a writer and editor in Opinion focusing on the Latino experience in the United States. Michelle and Ross let me jump into the host seat today for a special episode focused on the Latino vote. It’s one of the fastest-growing demographics of voters in the United States. But in the Trump era, which party makes a better pitch to Latinos? I’m honored to be joined today by two of Opinion’s contributors. Linda Chavez is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center and the director of the Becoming American Institute, and she was one of the highest-ranking women in Reagan’s White House. Linda, welcome to “The Argument.”
And joining me and Linda is Chuck Rocha. He was a senior campaign advisor to Bernie Sanders. He’s also the founder of Solidarity Strategies, a political consulting firm that supports progressive candidates. And while you may not be able to see his cowboy hat, you’ll no doubt hear the Texas in his voice. Chuck, thank you for joining us today.
Thanks for having me.
So there’s often talk of this thing called a “Latino voting bloc.” Why don’t we just start with an easy question? Is there such a thing as a Latino voting bloc?
Well, I would say that there’s definitely a bloc, but I would say that that bloc is multicultural, multidynamic, multigenerational, and I’d even say multicolored. People who think about our vote think about us all being Mexican, think about us all speaking like I do as a man from Texas, and they just don’t realize how different and how many shades of the rainbow there is. Not only with the color of our skin, but where we come from and our countries of origin and I would say, for someone like me, how many generations your family has been here in America. For many examples, I like to use the one that’s my favorite is I’m a third-generation Texan. It’s been a long time since my folks lived in Guanajuato, Mexico. And so the way that my family, my son, and even my twin grandsons view the world — all Latinos and all Latino voters at some point in their lives — could not be more different than the experience maybe that a Cuban or a Dominican or Puerto Rican. All of these different cultures make our voting blocks so unique. So we are a block. There are just so many pieces of that block.
I know that usually on these kinds of podcasts we’re supposed to disagree with each other, but I couldn’t agree more with Chuck on that point. Hispanics are very diverse. Chuck talked about being a third-generation Texan. Well, my family came over in 1601. Pedro Duran y Chavez came from Sevilla and ended up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was part of the original expedition that founded New Mexico. My family has lived on soil that is now part of the United States going back 10 or 11 generations. And so whenever people tell me to go back where I come from, it’s a little hard. And by the way, I don’t think they mean Spain. [CHUCK LAUGHS]
I think between the three of us, we span the Latino American experience. You know I came from Cuba in a boat in 1980 and grew up in Miami surrounded by Cubans, in a way feeling like I’d never left the island. And our stories are an example of how disparate the Latino American experience can be in this country. All right, so now we know that Latinos are a diverse bloc, and I’m curious. What do we talk about when we say Latino issues? What are they to you? Does such a thing exist?
Well, I think there are some issues that obviously have more importance in the Latino community. Immigration is certainly one of them, but when you ask Latino voters themselves what issues matter to them, immigration is not usually number one on that list. There are issues like the economy, which I think cut through. And probably if you were to look at public-opinion polls of Latino voters, the economy tends to be very high up on that list and may, in fact, surpass things like immigration, which you might think would have more salience in the Hispanic community given that about half of the adult Hispanic population in the United States is, in fact, foreign born.
I’d break that down a little bit differently of issues. What does it mean to be a Latino issue? I think there’s a set of Latino issues for Latinos. I think there’s a set of issues for Latino voters. The problem is how white pollsters ask the question, and that is what is the most important issue for you this election cycle? And to like what Linda said is normally that’s the jobs and the economy. Latino voters in that sense will act a lot like a white voter. But I just find that there is a nuance between an emotional issue that a Latino will tell you is not their most important issue to go vote today. It will always be jobs, the economy, the coronavirus, education, something, whatever that particular voter feels about. But if you want to get to the emotion, you’ll notice when Linda did her intro — not to pick on Linda — but she talked about the pride that she felt in her family, and going back that many years has been instilled in her to regurgitate that story in such a prideful way because, just like I talked about my family, it’s such a prideful thing, right? So when you want to talk about an emotional issue, immigration will never be in the top two or three of a Latino voters. But if you want to talk about tapping into an emotion, tap into what Isvett said about getting on a boat, coming here, getting with your family and moving from anywhere. Like, that’s an emotional trauma or emotional beautiful story or both all wrapped up.
Chuck, you raised a great point about this mix of pride and trauma. I think for me personally, I experience it that way, right, the sense of being proud of being Latina but also the trauma of immigration, of leaving the country that you’re from and building roots in a different one. And now that we’ve sorted out what issues matter to Latino Americans, I have a feeling you two disagree about the role politics can play in meeting those issues. So, Linda, I’m going to guess you don’t think Bernie Sanders is the way. Am I right?
I don’t think Bernie Sanders is the way. That’s absolutely true. But I certainly don’t think Donald Trump is the way either.
Chuck, you turned out Latino voters in big numbers in Nevada, Colorado, and Texas. Why do you think voters connected with “Tío Bernie“?
It’s not science, and it’s not hard. And I wrote this book “Tío Bernie” to explain to everyone in our community if you want our vote and if you want to come into our community and get our vote, you should spend resources and come have a conversation with our community. And I wanted to prove once and for all after 31 years of doing this if I could do it with Bernie Sanders that anybody could do it with another candidate if they do it in the way that I would outline, which is spend a lot of money to go have conversations about what you’re going to do and your vision for what you want to do to make Latinos’ lives better. My argument is have that conversation with the voter. Let’s let the voter decide and lay out your best case. And some of those will align with Republicans. Some of them will align with Democrats. And some of them are not sure who and how they align, but they want to hear information on how their value set — back to your first question on who we are and where we come from. So someone who just came here from Venezuela who had to get red and get out of a country where they were being forced out because of a brutal dictator looks at that country and issue set way differently than a third-generation Texas growing up with a bunch of white people in East Texas who sound like an old Mexican redneck like I do. It’s just how we bring in that information. What I say is I welcome that debate, but come to our community. The Bernie Sanders story in “Tío Bernie” showed how I spent $15 million in a primary with a Democratic socialist in six states, and what do you get in return? Fifty percent, 60 percent, 70 percent of the vote because we invested. So it’s disheartening for me sometimes that the Democrats still haven’t learned that lesson when we’re allocating resources, but I have to continue to have to beat that drum or I wouldn’t be doing my job.
Well, it’s a very interesting story that Chuck tells. I was having a discussion with another political friend of mine recently, and he talked about the white vote and particularly the white suburban vote against Trump. And the way he put it was if you get a white suburban voter to vote for Joe Biden, it’s really two votes because that person would have voted for Trump. So that would be one vote, and now he’s voting for Biden, and that would be another as well. So I think that’s part of the reason you see that overspending in the white community. But one of the problems is that the Latino vote is not a homogeneous vote. If you look at voting patterns, for example, in the African American community, about 10 percent or less of African Americans vote for the Republican candidate in presidential elections, but that is not true for Latino voters. Latino voters have in past elections, going back really to the 1970s, 1972, Richard Nixon got almost a third of Mexican American votes in that election, and you’ve seen both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush get northward of 40 percent of that vote. So I think what, unfortunately I think, Joe Biden is not doing is paying enough attention to the fact that he could lose a sizable chunk of the Latino vote. And in doing that, he could harm himself and harm his chances. Arizona is now a swing state, and if Joe Biden is not able to get an overwhelming support in that community, it’s going to go the way it has in most elections, and that is Republican. So I do think that it’s possible to reach Latino voters. I, frankly, am astonished when I see the level of support for Donald Trump in the Latino community, when I see that anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent — some polls show him even above 30 percent in Latino support. To me, it’s shocking because Donald Trump is absolutely the most anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic political candidate that we have seen, I think certainly in my lifetime.
Yeah, what is that about? I mean, I’m totally fascinated by this. If anyone of you can explain this to me, I would love to hear why you think that is.
— his support has remained pretty steady, right? It was like 28 percent in 2016 to around 22 percent now. That’s pretty incredible.
Yeah, and I think I can explain it. Let me just do that right now for all you listening out there because I have been dumbfounded by it as well, but the explanation is pretty clear if you know what’s happening on the underbelly of how these campaigns are run. Now, you have a lot of things that are happening. Donald Trump has 1,000 percent name ID. So when the primary was over, you had what — I have a Bernie hangover because I just spent $15 million telling everybody why Bernie Sanders was the second coming of Cesar Chavez. So that ends in the late spring, and we get out. And it’s something I don’t want to live through again and think about it shutting down because it will make my eye twitch. But then you had the corona. So the corona there jumps up on the scene. Everybody had to shut down their campaigns. Everybody was told to go home. Everybody’s told not to go to work, not to go to school. And what you had every day at 5:00 was Donald Trump talking about the coronavirus and what he was going to do. Now, we all know that it was crazy. But what would happen every night — and y’all both know this — is that it would be covered on Univision and Telemundo. So he’s getting out there every evening talking. Now, he ain’t got to win all the vote. He ain’t even got to win a majority of the vote. But just him on with no other narrative out there but just him talking about what he was going to do, maybe you lose a point here, two points here, three points there. So if you take Bernie Sanders kick-butt operation, if you take then the coronavirus and the monopoly of all the prime-time news coverage, then you do see him pick up 2, 3, 5, up to about 10 points of support, right? That’s how his support has grown to the point where it is where everybody’s like, how can that be? Well, boys and girls, for all you taking notes at home, that’s how it can be.
Yeah, and something like four points can make a huge difference in some of these battleground states, right?
Well, I think that’s absolutely right. I have very mixed feelings about this. I am still a conservative on a whole variety of issues. I will agree more with a Trump administration than I will with a Biden administration. It’s just the facts. But what I don’t understand is why the Biden folks are not paying attention to the Chuck Rochas of the world because I am going to vote against Donald Trump because I think he’s a threat to democracy. I think that it has nothing to do with where — I would probably prefer the appointees to the Supreme Court that a second Trump term would produce more than I would a Biden administration. Tax policy I’m probably going to be more— there are a lot of reasons why I would agree with Trump. But I think Trump is a true threat to Democratic institutions. So I think that’s very worrisome to me, and the fact that the Biden campaign seems to be so late in realizing this could end up having a dramatic effect on the election.
I kind of want to ask the question, I’m curious if you think the Republican Party you joined even exists anymore. How do Latinos fit into Trump’s Republican Party? Do they fit?
I don’t think conservatives fit into Trump’s party, quite frankly, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Republican Party. [ISVETT LAUGHS] A lot is going to depend on this election. If it’s a rout — if Donald Trump goes down in flames and loses the election and it’s not a squeaker, it’s a definitive loss for him, if the United States Senate flips and if the Democrats are able to hold on to their majority in the House and not lose many seats in the House, then I think the Republican Party is going to go through some handwringing, and they’re going to have to think about the future, and they’re going to have to decide what that future is going to be. But I don’t know that I have a lot of faith that the Republican Party which I joined — which, by the way, I didn’t join until 1985. I didn’t become a Republican until I had already joined the Reagan administration. I voted twice for Ronald Reagan as a registered Democrat. But I don’t know that the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush is going to return. It’s not clear to me given what we’ve seen that Trump has done to the Republican base, and that seems to make all the difference in the world, what he’s been able to do in his invigorating populism and reaching out to some disaffected Democrats who are now Republicans. His base in lower-middle-class white America, that base may remain and remain within the Republican Party, and it may transform the Republican Party in the 21st century.
People forget — and I’ll say this before Linda probably says it — is that people forget that George W. Bush got 44 percent of the Latino vote, and he did that because he ran commercials. He went to the community. And let me stop right there. When I say go to the community, I don’t mean have a Zoom meeting, fly into a Lulac chapter and meet with 15 leaders. I mean go to the community and spend some money. What does that mean, Chuck? Oh, let me tell you what that means. That means buy TV advertisement, radio advertisement, and digital advertisement, that local paper down at the market that your grandmother goes and gets in Spanish every Friday because it’s got the sales coupons in it. Advertise in that paper. I mean you spend money talking to brown people like you spend money talking to white people. That’s point A. Point B is that Joe Biden is not doing a bad job reaching out to Latinos. He’s doing the same job that every other Democratic presidential general election candidate has done to try to court our vote. And what I’m getting at there is that that’s wrong. They all have good intentions. In my mind, Joe Biden cares about the Latino vote. He cares about Latino staff. He cares about running a good operation, and a lot of his friends, a lot of my friends work on this campaign. The problem is and the whole reason I wrote the book “Tío Bernie” was to say there’s a different way to do this. When we set up the Bernie Sanders campaign, we didn’t have a Latino department, and we dominated the vote because we made the Latino outreach integrated into the overall campaign. We didn’t say, oh, Linda’s going to be over this part of the cabinet because she’s a Latina. No, we’re putting her there because she’s talented and can do the job. She just happens to be a Latina. That’s the formula to success that I want to see Joe Biden and all of them do. I’m not going to throw rocks at Joe Biden’s campaign. I think that they’re doing a good job. It’s just that it can be done so much better.
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen voters turn out as passionately as they did for Bernie, at least Latino voters. I think while other presidents have been able to capture a significant percentage of that vote, I don’t think I saw voters feel as passionate for a candidate as they did for Bernie and not even Julián Castro, who actually was Latino.
It’s the old adage if a tree falls in the woods, right? Julián had a great message, and he would have been wonderful. But he had, again, no money to go tell people who he was and what he stood for.
Could I could I raise another issue here? And it’s an uncomfortable one, but I think, as Latinos, we need to talk about it, and that is Latinos and their attitudes towards African Americans. I think that the Black Lives Matter protests that we’re seeing in the streets, certainly some of the rioting that we’ve seen in certain places may end up rebounding to the benefit of Donald Trump in certain parts of the Latino community because — and I’ve written about this for years — this notion that Blacks and Latinos are all on the same wavelength, that we are one big, happy community of disadvantaged people and our goals are the same, that may be true demographically. That may be truer demographically. But I think that we have to recognize that there is competition and there is conflict and there is prejudice that works against the whole notion of this united front of Black and Latino voters.
So I want to get into this idea of the support that he has which is so surprising between Black and Latino men. We’re seeing some polls that he has enough support that it can also make a difference. Is it because of his machista message? Is that appealing? Is it that simple? I don’t know. I’m eager to hear what you think about that.
Well, I do think that the kind of macho image is something that probably benefits him. Again, he’s sort of standing up to things that they don’t necessarily like. And while there certainly is demographic overlap and there should be some commonality between Black and Latino voters — and there is, I mean, in large part. But as Chuck has made the point, Joe Biden is going to win a majority of Latino voters. The question is how big a majority is he going to win? And the size of that majority could make the difference in some important states. It’s not going to make a difference in California, but it could make a difference in Texas, and it definitely will make a difference in Arizona. So one of the things that I think Trump is doing right now that I think maybe Biden could use to his advantage in appealing to Latino men is the way in which Trump talks about the military, the whole you know losers and suckers argument that we heard this week that supposedly Donald Trump referred to fallen servicemen, people who had died in World War I as losers and suckers, and we’ve seen that kind of language. I think there is a latent patriotism within the Latino community. A lot of Hispanic men have served in the military. And I think when Trump starts badmouthing the US military and bad mouthing the courage that it takes to go and defend your country, I think that is an opening that Biden should exploit. But as Chuck says, he has to recognize that he has to target that message. He has to go in there with enough resources and with a message tailored to that community that it’s going to have some impact. [MUSIC PLAYING]
Let’s take a quick break, and we’ll be right back.
OK, we’re back. So I think we’ve had too much agreement for a podcast called “The Argument,” so let’s get into where I think you may disagree. What policies do you think best speak to Latino concerns, Linda?
Well, I think the economy is important, and I do believe that Democrats who are much more enamored of taxes and redistributing wealth may actually not be doing a favor to Hispanics who want to start their own businesses, who are entrepreneurial. I think education is another arena. I think that school choice gives an opportunity for people who live in communities where public schools are not doing well an opportunity to be able to choose their own schools outside the public-school system. There’s a growing number, for example, of Latinos who are evangelical, and evangelical parents may want to send their kids to a religious-based school. And I think that having the opportunity to be able to choose the school your children go to and to be able to allow your own money to be used through a voucher or some other means, a tax credit, is something that can appeal. Again, it’s not to the entire Hispanic community, but certainly it is to a segment of it.
Well, I would think about policies a little bit differently, obviously, working for Bernie Sanders. People were not shocked to know that Medicare for All was the number-one issue with Latinos through that entire process before we got to corona. Medicare for All was hugely popular with Latinos because they are underinsured, so that is just a big part of what their lexicon is. Thinking about small businessmen, thinking about people who want to — and Latinos were very aspirational in all of our polling and things I’ve seen over generations, and they do want to create and they do create lots of wealth around being entrepreneurs, but they also understood the message of the two-tiered system that we live in. So talking about the haves and the have-nots, not that you don’t want to have the haves. I’m a small businessman in Washington, D.C. I pay $0.46 for every dollar that comes into my firm. Now how, Chuck, would you say is that possible? ‘Cause this tax thing is a very big deal for me. I’m at the highest tax bracket because I make a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, so let’s call that 38 percent. And then I live in D.C., so there’s another $0.10 popped on that. You go from 38 percent to 48 percent there pretty quickly. My problem is is that the folks who have money and lawyers and income and wealth, a la Republicans, figure out a way to get around them having to pay 48 percent. So they’re paying GE 10 percent or Bezos no tax while my tax dollars are used to prop up these fellas. So Latinos get that part of the messaging. And it’s just like you can be aspirational, but also understand that the system is rigged.
And so what do you think of Chuck’s point on taxes, Linda?
Well, I think he is right that one of the reasons you don’t necessarily raise in the aggregate more money when you raise taxes is that people who are very smart and who don’t want to pay taxes have other people they hire to figure out how not to pay those taxes. And so the kind of loopholes — I mean, there is no such thing as a flat tax. And even when I was in the Reagan administration, I worked on the 1986 tax-reform bill, and originally there were going to be basically three tax brackets, and most deductions were going to be eliminated, and it was pretty much going to be if you fall into this bracket, you’re going to pay this amount in taxes. Then the lobbyists got working, and everybody from the Knights of Columbus, who wanted to make sure that the deduction for charitable gifts were was not eliminated, to the housing industry didn’t want to see the housing mortgage check go by the wayside. So Chuck’s right. Effective tax rates are very different than the marginal tax rates.
We need to remember that Latinos are younger, that we’re just younger overall for the listeners out there. Like when the average Latino in this country is less than 30 years old — and that’s just the fact that we are younger demographically. Now, the Latino voter is a little bit older than that because guess what? Only older voters go and vote. And what we found during the Bernie Sanders campaign is that these younger Latinos — is this surprising? [LAUGHING] I’m thinking about my 30-year-old son — is that their view of policy is much different than their parents’ who have a mortgage, who have a car payment, who’s figuring out how, if you come from a point of privilege like I do and I see my privilege, of trying to take care of my grandkids’ college education someday hopefully. So guess what? He’s a little more liberal than even his very liberal father because he views the lens of public policy through a different scope. And so I think we need to recognize that that’s very different in the Latino population to a Latino voter who Linda may be talking about who’s older Cuban, older Mexican, who’s just more Catholic, more conservative. So there’s more inroads for Republicans there. That 44 percent George Bush got was a way different demographic than what you’re going to see in 2010 because the population is growing at such a fast rate, so it brings that average number of how old it is younger.
I think that’s such an excellent point. You even see that with the Cuban community in Miami, right? Younger Cubans have very different perspectives from their parents on politics, on policy, on the way the direction the country is going in, and they tend to skew more progressive. And I think you’re seeing that that vote is actually shifting because of that. I also want to get back to this Medicare for All question. Linda, do you think Medicare for All is something that you’d support?
Well, I have to tell you, this is probably one of the few areas over the last 30 years or so where my viewpoint has shifted somewhat. I used to be very adamantly opposed to government-run, single-payer-type systems. I thought it would, in fact, make care more accessible to more people, but I also thought it would lower the quality of care. I now think that the system is so broken — and certainly the pandemic has given us insight into what that means — that we have to do something to fix our medical system, and that does mean a much more broad-based system of care that’s successful to more people. I have always believed that what people really worry about is not so much the visit to the doctor when you’ve got the sniffles but the catastrophic event. So I was always in favor of treating health insurance much like we do home insurance, that if your house burns down, you get reimbursed by the insurance company, and you build a new house. But if your furnace breaks, that’s on you. You have to pay for that. I still think that perhaps there is some system we could come up with. It would be absolute universal availability for catastrophic insurance but then give more choice to the kinds of routine care. And I think if there was more competition, you might, in fact, see providers coming up with more willingness to lower their fees if those fees were paid directly instead of through insurance companies. But, look, it is a complicated system. I don’t think anybody has the answer. I don’t think Medicare for All, as somebody— probably the only person on this podcast who’s actually on Medicare will tell you Medicare is not all that it is cracked up to be and can be not as good as private insurance. I’ve had both, and Medicare is often inefficient. It often makes you go through hoops to get testing and other things done that you should have the ability to do. So I don’t think Medicare for All is necessarily the answer, but we do need to tackle this problem.
I also think that while we think Medicare for all isn’t the answer, we think of Medicare in its current form, right?
If we actually funded and were intentional about Medicare, maybe that could be a way forward, right? When you think about the pandemic, which has turned everything on its head, but it’s impacted Black and brown people disproportionately. Our communities die in far, far higher numbers. A lot of them just didn’t have access to health care. So you’re sick. You just, you don’t go to the hospital, and that’s a problem. And also I think that Trump is playing into this fear that people that come from countries like Venezuela and Cuba that socialized health care is the worst thing that can happen, but those were very dysfunctional governments, and that’s not an example of what socialized health care can look like. So what are both your expectations for this election? You’re in very different political circles. What are you hearing or seeing? Unfortunately, Walter Mercado is no longer with us, so we’re on our own. Tell me, what do you see in the stars?
A, I just finished doing a Walter Mercado piece of mail in North Carolina. Just so you know, when I say cultural competency, baby, that’s what I’m talking about. [ISVETT LAUGHS] So I made a Walter piece of mail and sent it to every Latino in North Carolina, not from me but from this great group of community-based Latino organizations called N.C. Poder. I think that they give me the most hope is these great local groups of Latinos who are reaching out in a nonpartisan way, some of them partisan. But like N.C. Poder, LUCHA in Arizona, like these groups that are tied to the community who aren’t only registering Latinos and turning them out— they’re also helping provide government service and helping them with citizenship and helping them with things. So I do have a great hope. It would be good for me if Donald Trump really just barely lost because then I could tie Donald Trump around the neck of every commonsense Republican like Linda that I know and just say, here, you’ve got to wear this for at least 20 more years [LINDA LAUGHS] when she don’t want nothing to do with it just so it helps me win more elections. That’s being very self-serving. Let me be clear. But if he gets blown out and we win back the House and we win a majority of over 50 in the Senate, then people will look at me then that these Democrats, who I agree with about 75 percent of what they’re doing, have to deliver. And then it becomes a whole new heap of responsibility for the senior-most Latino Democratic operative in D.C. or in the country, who I am, to say, look, yeah, I helped elect a lot of these fools, but now they’re acting like a fool. And now we all got to go hold them accountable and remind them every day that it’s easier to hold a crazy Democrat accountable than it is a crazy Republican because we can go beat a crazy Democrat in a primary. A.O.C. proved that. So that’s going to be kind of my thinking of long-term strategy. I don’t want to be the dog who caught the car. You know what I mean?
Do you think someone like A.O.C. is the future of the party?
I think she’s a future of part of the party. I think that’s what makes us a unique thing. I used A.O.C. in that Bernie thing. People think, well, she’s liberal, Chuck, and she don’t represent this and that. Well, what she is is she is a smart, beautiful, charismatic Latina who every grandmother saw their granddaughter being. My granddaughter could be a congresswoman. So I didn’t talk about her policies as much as I talked about her aspiration to be able to overcome the two-party system and kind of jump in, and I used that with grandmothers in Iowa, Latina grandmothers. So she’s part of the future of the party for sure.
Linda, you’re leaning in. Tell me what you think.
Well, as you might imagine, I have very mixed emotions. I do care a great deal about immigration. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life almost exclusively focused on the immigration issue. And if Donald Trump is reelected, I see a very dismal future in terms of that issue. I don’t think we will see immigration reform. I have said for years that the way to stop illegal immigration is to give people who want to come here to work and who are going to contribute to our society a way to come here legally, but that means expanding legal immigration. And, of course, Trump is all about reducing it. So I don’t want to see a narrow victory for the Democrats. And I know this is going to sound bizarre since I am still a registered Republican, but I think because I am a conservative, because I do hold many things about the Republican Party dear, I want to see a transformed Republican Party. I want to see the Republican Party revert to the free-market, free-trade, entrepreneurial Republican Party that welcomed with open arms people as long as they came to the United States, letting people come here in greater numbers legally. So I’d like to see not the kind of narrow victory that Chuck suggests. But I hope that A.O.C. is not the future of Latinos in politics, Latinas in politics in America. I’d much rather see the kind of more moderate folks like Susana Martinez, who was governor of New Mexico. I’d like to see those kinds of people coming to the fore. It would be great to me if the Republicans could get back to getting 44 percent, 45 percent, maybe 50 percent, 51percent of Latino votes but only with a candidate who speaks to the kinds of principles that I think the Republican Party once stood for and, unfortunately, in the era of Trump has not stood for.
If you set her — if you set A.O.C.‘s policies to the side, whether we agree or we disagree — and I agree with all of her policies, for the most part. If we think about her story, though, of how this young woman was a waitress, got involved with a community-based organization, and took on the second- or the third-most-powerful Democrat in the U.S. Congress and out organized him in a Democratic primary, that’s what I’m about.
She certainly has charisma, and I have to tell you when she was first elected and many of my Republican Facebook friends were all posting the video of her dancing on the rooftop and they were doing it in a way to demean her and to act as if she wasn’t a serious person, I watched it and I thought this is absolutely delightful. And she is, as you say, Chuck, as a person in terms of the kind of charisma she brings, she is appealing. I just happen to disagree with virtually everything she stands for, not just in domestic policy but probably more importantly on foreign policy.
There you go. Y’all got your disagreement right there. That’s what we came here for, “The Argument.” There we go.
I’m still a right winger when it comes to foreign policy.
There we go.
[LAUGHS] Linda, do you think — looking forward, do you think the Republican Party will be able to separate itself from Trump’s virulent xenophobia against Latinos? He launched a campaign referring to Mexicans as rapists. He characterized caravans as invasions, and his party has stood by him. Can they come back from that, or is that really what the party thinks of Latinos?
Well, it’s interesting. Prior to 2015 when Trump launched his campaign, I was living in Colorado. I was out speaking to Republican groups every week, and I was bringing a proimmigration message to them. I was out talking to them about the facts, the fact that illegal immigration, even at that time, was down. There had been many more people coming 15 years earlier than there were in 2015. I talked to them about the assimilation of Hispanics in the United States. I wrote frequently about the way in which Hispanics have fallen into the pattern that virtually all immigrants have, and that is to start on the bottom rungs but to rapidly move up. Second-generation Hispanics were English speakers. By third generation, some — in fact, many were English monolingual speakers. They had lost the ability to speak Spanish. And I was getting a very receptive audience in Republican circles, in conservative circles. That changed on a dime with Donald Trump. And one of the things that I think happened is that was for the last 30, 40 years, maybe longer in the United States, it was impolite to say prejudiced things. If you had prejudiced feelings, certainly in mixed company you kept them to yourself. You didn’t speak them out loud. Well, suddenly Donald Trump gave permission for people to take their prejudices and pushed them to the front and engage in discussions and talk that was mean, that was racist, and he gave them permission to do that. I’ve always know you may have pulled back the rock and revealed the squirmy things underneath it. I’d like to put the rock back because I do think there is some value in simply making it not permissible in polite company to express views that are hateful. And with Trump gone, maybe some of that will come back.
I’m curious because you mentioned that you did change parties, and so why did you —
Become a Republican?
— change — why did you— yes, exactly. [LAUGHS]
Well, I mean, it’s funny. My second book was called an unlikely conservative. And one of the reviewers of my book noted the fact that I talked about this transformation that had taken place. And I think it was a woman, and she said there was no transformation. She was always a conservative, even though she may have been a Democrat. And I think, for the most part, that’s true. I think the Democratic Party of my youth, my father’s Democratic Party was a very different party than the Democratic Party of the early 1970s. It was really George McGovern who changed the party in ways that I found unacceptable. Foreign policy is a very big deal to me. I am a Cold War anticommunist, so I saw Jimmy Carter as basically ceding much of the world to the Soviet sphere during his tenure. I saw the map of the free world began to change and Latin America, Africa, other places moving into the more autocratic and totalitarian left, and that was the reason that I first voted for Ronald Reagan. It was solely on foreign-policy issues. I only became more conservative on economic issues, as you might expect, as I started earning more money and started paying more taxes. But foreign policy is still a very big factor in my vote, and it’s one of the reasons I couldn’t support Bernie Sanders. And if Bernie Sanders had won the nomination, I would not vote for Trump, but I certainly would not have voted for Bernie Sanders.
And, Chuck, what makes you a progressive rather than a conservative?
I think growing up and not having much. I think understanding the concept of my vision of what the government should do to stand up for its citizens, that the power not be concentrated with just the wealthy of the country who gets to make the law and hire the lobbyists and have the tax attorneys. It’s just these basic things to where I just know that I’m not going to align with a party that doesn’t speak to my personal values, and that’s just where I’ve always stood. I wrote in my book — it’s funny— of how did you get involved in politics? And I write about the NAFTA proposition — and people like to throw that in my face that it was Bill Clinton, a Democratic president, and it was. And that factory I worked in in East Texas and watching how it devastated that whole little community in East Texas when that tire factory went away. I think that you know this, Isvett, that I’m one of the few professionals in this city who never went to college. I’ve lived a real life, and I’ve just been so blessed and so lucky to be able to do the things that I’ve done and be in the Oval Office and get to run presidential campaigns.
Let me just sort of get in here because people don’t necessarily know my story, and Chuck and I probably come from backgrounds that are more similar than you might expect. My father was a house painter with a ninth-grade education. My mother worked primarily in restaurants until I got to be a teenager, and then she worked in department stores. I ended up going to college quite by accident. I was working in a beauty salon. I was a receptionist. And a girlfriend came by to go to lunch and walked over to the University of Colorado Denver center and decided she wanted to enroll in some classes. And I thought, well, maybe I’ll do that too. And I met my husband the first semester, and my husband comes from an upper-middle-class Jewish family, son of a doctor and a college dance professor, and the rest is history. We’ve been married for 53 years. But my background is also working class, and I never forget that. And I know that much of what I’ve been able to accomplish has been by virtue of luck and being in the right place at the right time. A lot of it is hard work, and I certainly have worked hard, but a lot of it is really luck.
I actually may cry because this is all just so lovely to be on here today and talking to you all and hearing about our stories and our perspectives and our community. I mean, I started kindergarten not even speaking English. I went to community college, and now I’m here talking to you all. And it’s a testament to the promise of this country, and I hope that that promise isn’t lost and that the future will look different, that our country can come back after these past few years and these horrid past few months.
Well, I will just say that I think you’re absolutely right, and the future of the country is at stake in this election. The direction that we’re going to go for the future is very much in the hands of the American voters. And I hope that Latinos who have, over the history of our community, have not voted as much as many other groups, I hope that they get out, I hope they register, and I hope they vote.
And with that, Linda Chavez, Chuck Rocha, thank you both so much for helping me add a little sázon to “The Argument” today. This was so much fun.
Thank you, Isvett. Great to be with you.
Thank you, Isvett. Appreciate it.
And that’s our show this week. Thank you for listening. If you have an election question that you want to hear debated on “The Argument,” leave us a voicemail at 347-915-4324. You can also email it to us at email@example.com. “The Argument” is a production of The New York Times Opinion section. The team includes Phoebe Lett, Kristin Lin, Paula Szuchman, Isaac Jones, Kathy Tu, Alison Bruzek, and Vishakha Darbha. Don’t worry, dear “Argument” listeners, Ross and Michelle will be back in your ears next Friday.
[LAUGHING] Bienvenidos al “Argumento.” [LAUGHS]