Can Republicans win minority voters?

The party is reaching out to Muslim and Latino voters in 2024

White GOP elephants with one non-white elephant
(Image credit: Illustrated / The Week)

The list of Republican presidential aspirants now features five candidates of color, The Associated Press reported, making the primary ballot "the party's most racially diverse ever." Miami Mayor Francis Suarez joined a group of candidates that includes Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and California activist Larry Elder. That "diverse leadership" may mean the party has an opportunity to "further weaken the Democrats' grip" on Black and Latino voters.

Indeed, former President Donald Trump — who famously started his 2016 campaign with attacks on Mexico and Mexicans — has responded to his recent federal indictment by appealing straight to Latino voters, The New York Times reported. Following his arraignment in Miami, Trump made an appearance at a Cuban restaurant and blasted his prosecution as something "you see in dictatorships like Cuba and Venezuela." That's a "not-so-subtle play for the sympathies of Latino voters," the Times reported.

It's not just Latinos. The GOP is also making a play for Muslim voters in 2024, Semafor reported. That also marks a pivot, and perhaps a complete reversal: Trump appealed to LGBTQ+ voters in 2016 by promising to protect them from the so-called "hateful foreign ideology" of fundamentalist Muslims. Now Republicans are wooing Muslims "by promising to protect them from LGBTQ rights advocates whose demands conflict with their faith." Will it work?

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What are commentators saying?

There are skeptics and critics of these shifts. "Nothing drives conservatives to reach out to groups they once feared as much as another group that they fear even more," columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote at the New York Times. For most of the two decades since 9/11 "abhorrence of Islam was an organizing principle" on the right. But now Republican conservatives — many of whom are Christian — believe they can make war on "wokeism" with conservative Muslims. "Were it not inspired by an anti-LGBTQ backlash, such interfaith dialogue would be touching."

The time may be ripe for Republicans, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote at FiveThirtyEight. Recent polls show that support for President Biden has dropped significantly among Black voters — but the biggest decline has been among Hispanic Americans. "Democratic activists have long complained that mainstream candidates like Biden take voters of color for granted." It's clear that Biden needs to better engage those voters "if the president wants to maintain the Democratic Party's diverse coalition."

But Latino activists say both parties are "missing the mark," Edwin Rios wrote for The Guardian. Democrats and Republicans "continue to treat Latino voters like a monolithic group" instead of reaching out to find what various communities actually care about. But they may have no choice: The number of Latinos in America has doubled over the last 20 years. "If you want to win campaigns in the future, the Latino electorate has got to be a significant portion of who you are targeting and communicating with," Colin Rogero, a Democratic strategist, told Rios.

What's next?

There is a paradox, Politico reported in March: Results from the 2022 midterm elections show that Republicans are winning more Latino voters — but that the greater number of Latino voters overall means that Democrats also benefited. "Even amid broader Republican gains, Democratic performance increased in areas with high proportions of Latino voters." Clarissa Martinez De Castro, vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative at UnidosUS, told Politico: "The reality is that the numbers are growing all over."

The Washington Examiner reported that a recent analysis found problems for both parties with Latino voters, however. Those voters believe Democrats "don't always deliver on their promises, but they still trusted Democrats to look out for them and thought Republicans were extreme," said Carlos Odio, co-founder of Equis Research. That means Latino voters are in play for both sides. "What jumps out across & above other traits is that swing Latinos aren't deeply partisan," he added in a tweet.

For now, at least, the Republican electorate is "overwhelmingly white," the Associated Press reported. And any shift of minority voters from Democrats to Republicans may not actually involve that many voters. In a closely divided nation, though, that could still have big effects: "Any shift is significant given how close some elections may be in 2024"

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Joel Mathis

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.