Donald Trump made inroads in South Texas this yr. These voters clarify why.


RIO GRANDE CITY — It was an odd sight in Starr County: Greater than 70 automobiles, decked out with Trump 2020 flags, parading 13 miles alongside the Texas-Mexico border from Roma to Rio Grande Metropolis.

Even Roel Reyes, who flew an “All Aboard the Trump Practice” flag from the again of his Harley Davidson, was shocked to have a lot firm. And he helped arrange the late October caravan.

“I used to be anticipating 15 to twenty vehicles max,” Reyes stated. “Often this space is for Democrats.”

Ten days later, when the election outcomes got here in, the remainder of Texas was simply as shocked at what occurred in Starr County. After shedding the county by 60 share factors to Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump misplaced it by simply 5% to Joe Biden.

In neighboring Zapata County, which Clinton received by 33 share factors in 2016, voters didn’t simply swing extra to the correct — the county flipped all the way in which pink.

And that pattern continued all the way in which up and down the Texas-Mexico border, the place Trump received 14 of the 28 counties that Clinton had practically swept in 2016 whereas profitable by a mean of 33 share factors. This yr those self same counties went for Biden by a mean of simply 17 factors.

The outcomes have locals questioning whether or not this was merely an odd election by which a norm-busting incumbent, mixed with the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, has quickly upended the border’s longstanding political stability — or whether or not it is a signal of a profound political realignment in South Texas.

Roberto Barrera stated his selection was straightforward. Born and raised in Zapata, he has labored within the oil and gasoline enterprise virtually his complete life. So he stated he couldn’t forged a vote for Biden, who stated through the second presidential debate that he would “transition” from the fossil gas trade.

“The best way I see it, they’d lower my job,” Barrera stated. “What else can I say?”

Oil and gasoline is the most important trade in Texas and employs a whole bunch of hundreds of Texans. However practically 50,000 oil and gas-related jobs have been misplaced through the pandemic as worldwide demand for oil has plummeted as a result of the virus is preserving extra folks at house.

Roberto and Alonso Barrera in Zapata on Nov. 10, 2020.

After his debate assertion, Biden — who now carries the banner for the institution, average wing of the social gathering — stated he wouldn’t get rid of fracking. However some South Texas voters say the leftward development of the Democratic social gathering — its embrace of other and cleaner power and the calls by some progressives over the summer season to defund police departments — has left them behind.

It’s an echo of what voters in different small city and rural components of America stated about voting for Trump in 2016.

“Apart from Hispanic heritage, many of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas have comparable demographics to Trump’s strongholds in rural communities throughout the nation,” stated U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, a average whose district consists of each Starr and Zapata counties. “It’s homogenous, deeply spiritual, pensively patriotic, socially conservative, and it’s hurting economically.”

Again in Rio Grande Metropolis, Mary Stewart voted for Cuellar and for state Rep. Ryan Guillen, a Democrat who represents Starr County within the state Legislature.

However the 80-year-old retiree additionally voted for Trump. After working for the Rio Grande Metropolis Police Division and for the state, Stewart stated she fears Democratic officeholders will defund regulation enforcement businesses and are available for her weapons.

“Who’s going to guard us?” stated Stewart, who planted a Trump-Pence sign up her entrance yard.

Stewart stated she supported Cuellar and Guillen as a result of she is aware of them, and so they know the group. However Stewart and different South Texas voters who spoke to The Texas Tribune stated the Democratic Occasion as an entire doesn’t.

That would grow to be a problem for the social gathering as it really works to maintain or broaden its attraction to Latino voters, a big and numerous voting bloc that has grow to be an enormous think about deciding which social gathering wins Texas and key swing states like Florida and Arizona.

On this yr’s election, Cuban Individuals in South Florida broke closely for Trump as he carried the state. And the same swing by Mexican Individuals in South Texas offset some positive aspects Democrats made within the state’s suburbs.

Trump’s statements condemning protesters and backing regulation enforcement linked with voters in South Texas, the place a good portion of the inhabitants both works in regulation enforcement or has mates or members of the family who do.

Federal regulation enforcement businesses promote jobs on Instagram and Twitter in border counties, and the Border Patrol employs greater than 3,000 folks within the Rio Grande Valley alone.

Land surveyor and Republican voter Ernesto Alanis III stands amongst a wall showcasing his business’ history in Rio Grande C…

Ernesto Alanis III, a land surveyor in Rio Grande Metropolis who voted for Trump, stated the area’s shut ties to the navy and regulation enforcement helped push extra folks towards Republicans this yr.

“My Border Patrol agent mates say the wall works, and helps them do their job,” Alanis stated from his workplace, the place his black Desert Storm veteran cap sits subsequent to a pink MAGA cap. “If anybody would know if a wall labored, it could be them, proper?”

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, received reelection by simply three factors after profitable his final reelection in 2018 by greater than 20 share factors. He stated his help for regulation enforcement and oil and gasoline didn’t assist him on this month’s election.

“I feel the social gathering obtained penalized for being anti-law enforcement,” Gonzalez stated. “Folks put up an indication subsequent to one among mine in a rural space, and so they had an arrow saying, ‘He’s a proud member of the social gathering that wishes to take your weapons and oilfield jobs away.’”

Gonzalez added, “I get criticized by the left for this — I’m, like, as pro-oil and gasoline and pro-military as you will be. Not at all do I help the Inexperienced New Deal and [transitioning to clean energy] in a single day.”

Cuellar and Gonzalez each stated the 2020 outcome was a Trump-specific phenomenon.

“Hispanics, particularly Mexican Individuals, they like this machismo, bravado, lucha libre-style politics — it’s like all-star wrestling, Trump type,” Gonzalez stated. “It matches completely with the South Texas, Tejano individual.”

And a few voters stated the Democratic Occasion isn’t as welcoming because it was within the a long time after John F. Kennedy’s “Viva Kennedy” marketing campaign that sought to succeed in extra Mexican Individuals.

“Biden staked the final election on disaffected Republicans and Black voters,” stated Northwestern College historian Geraldo Cadava, who wrote a ebook about Hispanic Republicans. “It was a profitable system for Biden in a whole lot of methods. I simply suppose consequently, he didn’t make Latinos a precedence till manner later.”

Some South Texas voters stated they don’t acknowledge the Democratic Occasion any extra. Jay Peña, an lawyer in Rio Grande Metropolis, stated as a child he was raised a Democrat like most individuals he is aware of.

“I’m a type of that was a lifelong Democrat and introduced up Democratic due to our roots right here,” he stated. “Like mainly everybody right here within the Valley, the Democratic Occasion was ingrained in our childhood.”

Peña stated he voted twice for President Barack Obama, “however I’m a type of that converted.” He stated he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 as a result of he realized his rules lined up extra with the GOP than the Democrats.

“I used to contemplate myself left of heart,” Peña stated. “I don’t anymore.”

Jolie McCullough contributed reporting.

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