If Donald Trump’s rise to the White House has proven anything, it’s that fear of immigrants is one of the dominant forces inside the Republican Party (fear of dark-skinned immigrants, to be more precise; Norwegians are apparently perfectly acceptable). This racism is what is driving GOP intransigence around the Dream Act, which an overwhelming majority of Americans support, leading to the January government shutdown—and possible another one in February.
But there’s a lesson here for Democrats. The thing that your enemy is most afraid of—it’s probably a good idea to harness and unleash its power if you want to win.
The truth is that Republican are right to be afraid of immigrants. Not because there might be a taco truck on every corner (and, really, would that be so bad?), but rather because the rapidly expanding ranks of Latinos have the potential to decimate the political power of white supremacists and their enablers in Congress and the White House. Latinos are now the largest nonwhite racial group in America. They are among the fastest-growing sectors of the population (Asian Americans are actually the fastest-growing segment of the population). There are 58 million Latinos in the country, and many of them are young citizens, with 66,000 Latinos turning 18 (voting age) every month.
This group is more than large enough to transform the political balance of power in key states and in the country as a whole. Most immediately, Latinos now have the numbers to swing key races that will determine control of the United States Senate. The strategic question for progressives is will they channel the resources of the resistance into building the power of the very people who have conservatives quaking in their boots.
Democrats need to pick up two Republican-held Senate seats to flip control of the chamber, while also protecting all 26 of the seats held by Democratic incumbents or independents who caucus with Democrats. This latter challenge is more manageable than many realize. While it’s true that Trump won 10 of the states that Democrats are defending, he did so by defeating Hillary Clinton, not incumbent native sons and daughters. More importantly, the outcomes of midterm elections hinge on voter turnout. Whichever party gets more of its core supporters to the polls in the non-presidential election year usually wins, and in most of the seats that Democrats are defending, more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for the last Republican nominee for Senate.
In terms of taking territory from Republicans, the most winnable seats are in Arizona and Nevada, two states with large Latino populations (stemming from the fact that the land on which those states sit used to be part of Mexico, until the United States killed thousands of Mexicans and stole the land in the War of 1848). Hillary Clinton won Nevada in 2016. Arizona was one of the closer contests in the country, with Clinton losing by just 3.5 percent—a margin of 91,000 votes in a state where 600,000 eligible Latinos did not cast ballots in 2016.