Simon Rosenberg
5 min readMay 8, 2018

Backlash to Trumpism Brewing in the Border Region of the US

We return this morning to a subject we’ve focused on over the past two years — the apparent backlash to Trump’s politics in the parts of the US with large Mexican-American populations, and potentially in Hispanic and immigrant heavy Florida too. Early 2018 data suggests this backlash continues unabated this year, making this one of the most important emerging political stories of the Trump era.

To set the stage we go back to 2016. In an election when the national vote shifted 2 points net towards the Republicans (from 2012), Arizona, California and Texas moved sharply in the other direction, more so than any other states in the nation:

CA went from 60%/37% (D/R) in 2012 to 62%/32% in 2016, a net shift of 7 points.

TX went from 41.4%/57.2% to 43.2%/52.2%, a net shift of 6.8 points.

AZ went from 44.5%/53.5% to 45.5%/49%, a net shift of 5.5 points.

Note that much of the movement was GOP erosion, rather than Democratic gains. Digging a little deeper into 2016, Clinton lost far less ground in heavily Hispanics states like CO, FL and NV in the Presidential battleground than she did in the northern states, and she even managed to hold on and win CO and NV. Clinton only lost Arizona by 3.5 pts, a closer margin than GA, IA, NC and OH, making Arizona an official part of the national Presidential battleground for the first time in decades.

In January of this year Gallup released a report reviewing the President’s job approval rating throughout 2017. It had some unexpected results:

Notable is the President’s strength in Ohio and Iowa, but what is perhaps most striking about this data was how low Trump’s numbers were in Arizona, Florida and of course Texas. That the second largest state in the country was now acting like a battleground state and not a safe Red confirms that something indeed is up in the border region of the US.

In recent weeks we’ve gotten some early polling from statewide races in the region which also finds GOP erosion (data is from Real Clear Politics). In Arizona we find Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema leading all three of her potential GOP opponents in the Flake open Senate seat by at least 6 points, receiving at least 48% in each match up. In Nevada, incumbent GOPer Dean Heller is in a dead even race against Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, 40%-39%. Remarkably, in Texas, Ted Cruz leads his largely unknown opponent, Beto O’Rourke, by just 3 points, 47%-44%. In Florida, incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson leads the two-time elected Governor, Rick Scott, by 4 in each of two recent polls — 46% to 42% and 44% to 40%.

Even the popular Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, only checked in at 49–40% and 48–41% against two relatively unknown Democratic opponents in that same Texas poll. Abbott won 2014 by 21 points and is now up 8; Cruz and won in 2012 by 16 and is now up 3. While just one poll, these findings are consistent with other data showing a significant structural shift in Texas towards the Democrats of at least 7 points, and perhaps even more.

To recap, Senator Heller is at 40% in NV, Governor Scott 40% and 42% in FL, Rep. McSally 42% in AZ, Senator Cruz 47% and Governor Abbott 48% and 49%. Every one of these well-known GOP officer holders are under 50%, most in the low 40s — similar to where Trump’s job approval is in these states. While early, these are bad bad numbers for the GOP and confirm significant erosion in these states for the GOP brand.

Trump’s buddy Joe Arpaio trails Dem. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema 59–33, 26 points, in the Arizona Senate race.

It is even worse for the GOP in California. In the Gallup poll, Trump’s job approval was among the worst in the nation at 29% approve, 65% disapprove (this is a shocking result). Recent polling suggests that it is unlikely a Republican will even end up on the ballot in the general election in either the Senate or Governor’s races, something that could have a significant impact on the 7 to 9 Republican held Congressional seats thought to be in play here. According to the Cook report, all told there are between 17 and 24 GOP held House seats in play in the heavily Mexican-American states and Florida, so a strong Democratic showing and a Trumpian induced GOP fade here could be instrumental in not just giving the Senate to the Democrats, but the House too.

What is causing the backlash? More research needs to be done but I would guess that Trump’s attacks on Mexico, NAFTA, immigration and immigrants themselves isn’t playing well in a region with a large number of Mexican-Americans and immigrants. The cultural, family and economic ties between this region and Mexico are significant, and Trump’s relentless hostility towards it all makes him feel like the leader of some other part of this US, and not this one.

Florida is a different story of course, but is well worth watching. Trump has a long history in the state, and still spends a great deal of time there. Florida has few Mexican-Americans but many Hispanics and many immigrants, particularly of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent. The question for Florida this year is will the combination of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric/policies and rough and crude treatment of Latin America and Puerto Rico create the same kind of regional rejection of Trumpism we appear to be seeing in the border region. It is too early to tell, but having a sitting two-term Governor start off his Senate race at 42% and 40% in early polling is anything but happy news for the GOP.

While there has been much attention given to the President’s overtures to the Rustbelt and Midwest, it is time to consider whether in doing so he is also driving a very large part of the country, with country’s three most populous states, further away, dangerously so, from the GOP. The President is making a big bet, one that increasingly looks very risky not just for the long term future of the GOP but also for its elections prospects in 2018.

Simon Rosenberg

I run NDN/NPI, a DC think tank. Clinton & DNC alum, Tufts grad, Aspen Crown Fellow. Father of 3 great kids, truly lucky husband. Proud globalist.