Marco Rubio and Rick Scott gathered reporters in a conference room early Thursday morning at the National Republican Senatorial Committee for a light breakfast, a PowerPoint presentation, and a paradigm shift.
The vaunted “coalition of the ascendant,” that mix of young voters and minority voters and white college-educated voters who together carried Barack Obama to a second term, has fractured. Projected demographic changes will continue but will not lead to permanent Democratic majorities. Anyone looking to forecast the future of American politics should look to red Florida, not blue California.
At least so said GOP pollster Curt Anderson, who laid out the findings of a new NRSC survey of Hispanic voters in battleground states. The top line from his 34-page slide deck? “The coalition of the ascendant is descending.” The proof? The two senators sitting at the table who won election in a Sun Belt state that has become “substantially less white and more Republican.”
The moment for their multiethnic, multiracial working-class coalition has arrived, Republicans hope, and Hispanic voters are the key. “They said how well Marco would do because he is of Cuban descent,” Scott said, noting how Rubio won 48% of those voters in his 2016 race, “but when I did it, they said, ‘Well, there is something different about Florida.’ If you look at these poll numbers, it is not. If you look at these poll numbers, Hispanics across the country are Republicans.”
The GOP theory of the case ahead of the midterms, where Republicans must not only defend 20 of their own seats but also flip at least one Democratic seat to retake the Senate, sounds simple. “If Republicans reach out to them,” Scott said of Hispanics, “we are going to win.”
The survey of 1,200 Hispanic likely voters in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin, conducted by OnMessage Strategies, is welcome news to a party that went, in just four years, from unified control of Washington to banishment in the electoral wilderness. It shows an increasingly conservative Hispanic population open to the culture wars that Donald Trump waged.
These voters reject socialism and favor the free market by a margin of 63% to 17%, a sentiment that holds roughly the same among all Central and South American subsets.
They agree also, 67% to 28%, with the widespread angst that the nation is in decline and fear their children will not enjoy the same opportunities. About four out of five say that public schools are failing, while two-thirds worry that too many Americans are “losing our traditional values centered on faith, family, and freedom,” and agree that “cancel culture has gotten out of hand.”
The in-house numbers dovetailed with the biography of Rubio, himself a second-generation Cuban American. “The argument from the left is that this country is a place that has not been good for people, other than the majority, over much of our history,” he said. “And Hispanics just don't buy it. And the reason why they don't buy it is very simple: They know what life is like in another country.
“You can just imagine it, right? You came from Venezuela, you came from Cuba, or you came from Nicaragua, or you’re Colombian, and you saw what happened in those countries,” he added. “Now you put your kids in schools where they try to teach them that Che Guevara was some kind of hero?”
Rubio admitted that his message might be lost on some, perhaps the white college-educated slice of the ascendant coalition who “have the luxury of imagining” some “utopian country somewhere that has a better history and a better life than America.” This is not, he insisted, the case for a majority of Hispanics.
“When you have come from somewhere else, and you know what life is like in another country, you know how special this country is,” he said. “You sure as hell don't want to live in a second country where those things are lost.”
That sentiment could explain why the Trump campaign saw a significant boost from Hispanic voters last November. As the New York Times reported, a postmortem analysis by the Democratic research firm Equis Labs showed that the outgoing president improved on his 2016 numbers in 2020 by winning about one in three Latino voters nationwide.
To underscore that point during his slideshow in the NRSC conference room, Anderson flashed a quote from Democratic pollster David Shor. “One important thing to know about the decline in Hispanic support for Democrats is that it was pretty broad,” Shor told New York magazine, no doubt to the delight of Republicans. “This isn’t just about Cubans in South Florida. It happened in New York and California and Arizona and Texas. Really, we saw large drops all over the country.”
Rubio and Scott are convinced this phenomenon can repeat itself even without Trump on the ticket – or even on the campaign trail. Scott, the NRSC chairman, conceded, however, that the former president would make up his own mind about the role he would play as the GOP tries to take back the Senate, saying, “He’s going to get involved where he is going to get involved.”
The presentation comes as Rubio faces a Senate challenge from Florida Rep. Val Demings, one of the many 2022 Democratic candidates making a point of Republicans’ efforts to block the creation of a congressional commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
“I don't get asked about Jan. 6,” Scott told RealClearPolitics when asked if the events of that day have any effect on the GOP courtship of Hispanic voters. “…What people do say is, ‘I want to make sure the election is fair. Do you think our election laws are going to make sure the next election is fair?’ They ask that.”
Rubio followed up: “You know what people think? They think a bunch of crazy people, violent people, committed crimes. They should be arrested. They should be prosecuted. If convicted, they should serve time in jail. That's what's happened. That's what they think should happen.”
Other issues are at the forefront of voters’ minds, Rubio and Scott said, pointing to polling that showed 72% of Hispanics agreed that “we need to control the border” and “stop the surge of illegal immigration.” Nearly half of those voters, according to NRSC numbers, said the border crisis made them “less likely to support Democrats” in the midterms.
The surge, Rubio said, has already turned many Hispanic voters off to the Biden administration. “They think it's completely induced and created by this administration, by its attitude and by its behavior and the words they put out even before they took public policy measures,” he insisted. And according to Scott, “what Biden has done is killing the chance to get immigration reform.”
Both believe that the demographic trends will favor Republicans in the long run as Hispanic Americans become a larger portion of the electorate. They are pro-immigration and at the same time have called for better border security.
“No one is talking about being anti-immigration,” Rubio explained. “We are just saying there has to be a way to do it that is orderly and legal and organized, not chaos, which is the system we have in place right now.”