On Tuesday, Republican Mayra Flores won a South Texas congressional seat that was occupied for over 100 years by Democrats. The district, which is largely populated with Latinos living near the southern border of Texas, was won by President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential elections.
How did Flores win?
“I think this speaks to Ronald Reagan’s message of Hispanics are Republican, they just don’t know it yet,” says Cesar Ybarra, vice president of policy at FreedomWorks. “Republicans have been doing a better job at explaining the Republican Party platform to Hispanic voters. This has been amplified just by the terrible job that President Biden and the congressional Democrats have been doing with the economy.”
Ybarra thinks Flores’ victory is the beginning of a resurgent GOP making inroads with minority voters, but that it will take time.
“Big changes don’t happen in two years, in four years. We’ve got to look at the long game,” he says. “And what happens in politics too often is we get so bogged down in winning the day and winning the week that we forget about where we want to be in 2025, where we want to be in 2030.”
Ybarra joins in the discussion to discuss the growing shift of Latino voters away from the Democratic Party and to the GOP, as well as what this means for future elections.
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Listen to the podcast, or see the lightly edited transcript below.
Doug Blair: Today’s guest is Cesar Ybarra (Vice President of Policy at FreedomWorks). Cesar, welcome to the show.
Cesar Ybarra: It was great to be at The Heritage Foundation again.
Blair: Of course. Well, we’re always happy to have you. Let’s talk about that election in South Texas. Republican Mayra Flores just won a massive victory in a South Texas district that hasn’t elected a Republican in more than 100 years and that went for President [Joe]Biden will be back in 2020. How did we get here? How did this change occur?
Ybarra: Yeah, I think this speaks to Ronald Reagan’s message of Hispanics are Republican, they just don’t know it yet. And I believe the Republicans have done a better job explaining to Hispanic voters the Republican Party platform since then.
This has been made worse by the terrible job President Biden and congressional Democrats have done with the economy. We have high-rising inflation and the border is in crisis.
… A recent poll just came out and they polled people in Texas 34 District on what the biggest issues were for them. No. 1, the border. No. 2, inflation. Guess what? Guess what?
I mean, we would’ve been happy if she would’ve gone to a runoff in August, but she crushed it and got that 51%, and is going to be a U.S. congresswoman next week. I mean, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s awesome.
Blair: Let’s talk about Flores herself. Can you give us an overview of Flores? What’s she like; is she a moderate, is she pretty conservative?
Ybarra: She’s pretty conservative. I wouldn’t say she’s a moderate. She immigrated to America as a 6 year old through the legal route. She was raised in South Texas.
Her husband is a Border Patrol agent. She has some stake in the matter of how this administration treats Border Patrol agents. Living in a border town where her constituents are experiencing the daily insecurity of border insecurity perpetuated by the Biden administration gives her some skin in this game.
So, I wouldn’t call her a moderate. I would say she’s strong conservative. I mean, if you look at her yard signs, they said, “Dios, Familia, Patria”—God, family, country. These three words are extremely conservative.
Again, I was speaking to my friends today who were telling me stories about Mayra Flowers. And I said, “When I tell you guys that Hispanics are conservative, this is exactly what we’re talking about.” We’re talking about someone like Mayra Flores. She spread that message, and I believe she speaks on behalf all Hispanics who talk about God, family and country.
Blair: Given that there was such a radical shift, obviously, this district, like we said, hadn’t elected a Republican in over 100 years, and it still went for President Biden just two years ago. Is this something where we’re seeing Latinos shift based on their own policy preferences changing, or is it based on the parties, like the Democrats and the Republican change?
Ybarra: I would say it’s more on policy. I would say it’s more on policy because again, right, when you start talking about inflation and border insecurity, you talk about, well, what’s causing this? It’s policy. And it’s policy that is being driven by Democrats, and frankly, by squishy Republicans. We know that Hispanics identify themselves more as conservatives than as Republicans or Democrats.
So that’s what I would say. They’re starting to realize that their policy preferences are best aligned with Republican candidates. And that’s something that is being demonstrated in the polls that we’ve done at FreedomWorks through our Hispanic Grassroots Alliance. And it was definitely validated in Mayra’s race.
Blair: Now, you’ve mentioned you’ve done some polling data about this. Is this a one-off or recurring pattern?
Ybarra: Yeah. You have Adam Laxalt in Nevada. I’ve been seeing a lot of trending topics of him kind of doing well with Hispanic voters out in Nevada. We should be able to perform well in Arizona. In the polling that we’ve done, it seems like Hispanics down in the Tucson area are not as strong as folks in Florida or in Texas, or maybe Nevada.
So there’s still some work to do. This is not something for us to puff our chest and say, “We’re there.” I just think Mayra Flores is a good case study of what happens when we do the right kind of messaging and campaign investing. But I just think that it’s not going to happen in two years or four years; this is a 10-year, 20-year project, where we have to continue spreading our message and not get complacent.
Blair: Well, let’s look at that big picture. You’ve mentioned that this is a 10-, 20-year project. What will that look like in the aftermath of the election? How will this election affect the 10- to-20-year plan?
Ybarra: Well, for one, let’s just go back to Mayra Flores a little bit. … She won a D+4 district, now she’s going to be running in a new district in November, which is D+15.
Given the political climate in the United States, we believe Mayra Flores has a chance to win. But, I think we can’t afford to be complacent.
But broadly speaking, I think … it’s going to take groups—local, national, regional—to continue spreading this message, continue investing in not only polling, but outreach to the Hispanic community.
Take a look at the following: [Republican National Committee] has been doing in setting up their local offices for communities in Hispanic districts and black districts, and just every minority demographic generally—
And I don’t want our efforts to be solely focused on Hispanics, because when you look at Middle Eastern folks, Muslims, when you look at people that come from African countries, when you look at Asian people from Asian countries, they are also pretty conservative.
So this is not only a Hispanic opportunity, this is an opportunity just to win with minorities across the board, which has been a demographic that has been where the Democrats have had a stronghold on, and now they’re losing that.
And, man, I don’t know if you read a political story today, but Vicente Gonzalez, who’s the incumbent running against Mayra Flores, was fuming at the Republican leadership for literally forgetting.
Blair: The Democratic leadership.
Ybarra: The Democratic leader, for forgetting about Texas 34, for forgetting about the “brown people in South Texas.” I mean, now they’re starting to notice that Republicans are on the up and up, in a positive direction with Hispanics.
Blair: So that’s the type of lesson that we’re learning from this election, that the GOPs should start reaching out to these communities more. Do you think there were other lessons they learned from this?
Ybarra: Our policy platform resonates and our policy is right. I think we need to do more of it. We don’t need to shy away. We’ve got to realize that these folks are conservative. …
Trust and being a true believer will help you reach more people. When you’re not being wishy-washy and sort of talking like moderates do with, “Well, I support this, but no, no, no, we don’t need to go.” But we need to be firm in our beliefs and the people will come, because good policy is good politics. This is what Mayra Flowers did.
Blair: It seems like, in Mayra Flores’ case, going hard on conservative principles does make sense. Is that a general rule? The left will always insist that these minority groups will vote in a single, unifying manner. Is it true that Latinos tend not to vote for unapologetically conservative candidates?
Ybarra: I wouldn’t say it’s monolithic, because look at California. I mean, 40% Hispanics vote as libs. It is what it seems, right?
But if you were to go out in those communities—I don’t have any data or evidence to show this, but I would love for the movement to start investing in some polling out in California to see how they feel about these issues and start doing some in-depth studies. Remember that California has produced two Republican presidents. [Richard]Nixon [Ronald] Reagan. Imagine if we could go back and do that.
There’s a wave there; a lot of people are fleeing California. People in California are upset about the homeless situation, they’re upset about high gas prices, high grocery prices.
And when I tell them, “Well, why are you complaining? This is the government that you voted for. You voted for taxes. [Gavin]Newsom did it. Now you can live with them. You can make a difference. You can vote Republican in the next election and see if there’s a change.”
But yeah, so back to your question, it’s not a monolithic vote. I think it’s regional, but that’s my point. We need to go community by community. People in Doral, Miami, will be very different from people in San Diego, California or the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. So it’s not monolithic, we’ve just got to go region by region.
Blair: Now, something that you’ve mentioned previously is the impact that the Border Patrol had on this particular election. There was, obviously, Flores’ husband works for the Border Patrol.
Christina Pushaw is a comms specialist for Florida Gov. You retweeted a Christina Pushaw tweet. Ron DeSantis. She said, “Mayra Flores’ husband is serving our country as a Border Patrol officer. Border Patrol is a major employer here in South Texas. Hispanics comprise the majority of U.S. Border Patrol officers. The Democrats in the Biden government have relentlessly attacked these brave men, women and families. Time’s up.”
Is there a consensus view amongst Latinos on immigration, or at least maybe in this particular region, that really doesn’t square with how the corporate media and the left have portrayed the view of immigration amongst Latinos?
Ybarra: Yeah. With Border Patrol agents, that’s 100% right. If you’re a border town kid like I am, you cross the border every day and it’s always Hispanics, it’s always Asian folks kind of doing the visa-checking and all of that.
The Democrats have been demonizing Border Patrol Agents. … Now they’re going to be punishing the Border Patrol agents on horses who allegedly whipped people who were coming into the country illegally in the first place.
So, it’s not good politics for [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and “the squad,” the Democrats, and the media, frankly, to start going after defunding [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], defunding [Customs and Border Protection], defunding Border Patrol. It’s why you have Vicente Gonzalez fuming at the Democratic Party leadership for literally abandoning the Border Patrol agents.
And you know what’s so funny? If you look at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Twitter account, they … always use a hashtag called #NoSonOlvidados—you are not forgotten—speaking to the illegal immigrants.
You don’t know who they forgot about? The legal immigrants. They’ve forgotten about the Border Patrol agents. They’ve forgotten about the interest of the Hispanic people, of Hispanic voters, of Americans who got them there in the first place.
Democrats are more concerned for Hispanics living illegally than they are with voters or taxpayers.
Blair: So, we did discuss how there isn’t a monolithic sort of position amongst Latinos on these topics, but in this particular region, South Texas, how much does the border play into their calculus when they go to vote?
Ybarra: I mean, the border controls everything. According to the latest polling in the district, 38% of respondents believe or mostly believe that border and immigration issues are top of mind. Inflation was second.
Inflation is threatening everyone. Now, when immigration and border security is above that, you know it’s bad. Why is this bad? Because the caravans of people aren’t literally being parked in the Rio Grande Valley, in their communities, in their districts. They’re being released into their community.
Any reasonable person is going to say, “Whoa, what’s going on here?” It’s not the people, it’s just that we didn’t sign up for this. If we’re going to live in a peaceful community, we’ve got to abide by the rule of law. We have a government. We have rules. We have laws for reasons.
Yes, absolutely. The border and immigration issue plays a huge part in South Texas.
Blair: You mentioned Vicente Gonzalez really fuming at Democratic leadership because of losing this election. How are they framing it? Are they saying that they were the racist Republican or just that they screwed it up? How are they framing?
Ybarra: Well, what the Democratic Party leadership is saying is, “Well, it’s a D+4, we knew with the national environment that we were going to lose anyway. So, Mayra Flores can be a congresswoman for a couple months, we’ll get it back in November.” That’s the attitude that they took. That’s how much they don’t care about that district.
And I was looking through some of the ads, which were the negative ads that Mayra Flowers was being targeted by the Pelosi super PAC against Mayra, and it was on. [Jan. 6]. It’s like, oh my gosh, you are literally trying to convince people that Mayra Flores is an insurrectionist that somehow had something to do with the riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.
And it’s like, these people just don’t get it. A part of me wants to go and tell them, “Guys, it’s not that hard. You don’t have to be losing this hard.”
But you know the best part? Their loss is our win, and we’ve just got to, like I said, continue spreading our message and be positive more than anything. Because, in a more serious note, we have to tell Hispanics what we’re for, not what the Democrats are for. We need to highlight how good our policies and not how bad they are.
This must be a positive message, as Hispanics tend to favor conservative policies over Democrats. Let’s focus on the positive.
Blair: When we talk about messaging and things that pop up a lot, a lot outlets have noticed that Flores is a Mexican American congresswoman. She’s the first, I believe, Mexican-born congresswoman to enter Congress in American history. How do we celebrate the fact that is a first and that’s a positive, without falling into the identity politics trap that the left always does?
Ybarra: I mean, it’s good to acknowledge it. And again, right, because the important thing to highlight here is Mexican immigrants are Democrat—no. That’s why we have to make it a point. Democrats are the only people who can be both immigrants and members of Congress. That’s not the case, and Mayra Flores is breaking through that.
This is the exciting part and it is something we should celebrate. It’s that it doesn’t matter whether you’re Hispanic, whether you’re Asian, whether you’re black, you are a conservative first. Your vote matters more than who you are and where you came from, so we don’t have to get too bogged down on the identity politics. Let’s win it, let’s celebrate it. Let’s make it a point, as I say, to own the libs.
But, yes. I mean, I wouldn’t say we need to get bogged down in that. We celebrate for a day and just make sure that when Mayra Flores gets into office, that groups like FreedomWorks, like Heritage go out and ensure that she votes the right way and is well-educated on the policies, because we know there are people in Congress who are going to try to sway her to potentially be a non-conservative, or against Heritage’s and FreedomWorks’ values.
This is when the real work begins.
Blair: As one final question, we’ve seen, obviously, this victory in South Texas. We’ve seen, as you’ve discussed, that there are lots of different minority groups who are starting to shift over to the GOP. How can the GOP maintain this momentum?
Ybarra: Like I mentioned, the party’s doing a good job at putting this infrastructure together in different inner cities. And that’s what groups like FreedomWorks [are] doing. Through our Hispanic Grassroots Alliance, we’re going to the inner cities, like San Antonio and in Arizona, down in Tucson. As they say, we must go to the unfriendly areas.
We’ve been talking to some local candidates who are running down in South Phoenix, overwhelmingly Hispanic, Democratic strongholds, but they’re conservative. But they’re still going out there and they’re spreading their message. They’re knocking doors. They’re probably going to lose, they’re probably going to lose again in four years, but you’re planting seeds. And that’s what we have to do.
Again, big changes don’t happen in two years, in four years. We’ve got to look at the long game. And that’s what happens in politics too often, is we get so bogged down in winning the day and winning the week that we forget about where we want to be in 2025, where we want to be in 2030.
Blair: It’s a long way off now.
Ybarra: You’ll see the point. You get my point. Let’s plan the long term. We’re doing good work now. Let’s just continue doing what we’re doing—investing, doing research. If something is going wrong, let’s learn from it and pivot. Let’s just keep campaigning and keep educating.
Blair: It is possible to lose the battle but win the war.
Ybarra: That’s exactly right.
Blair: Okay. That was Cesar Yabara, vice president of FreedomWorks policy. Cesar, thank for your time.
Ybarra: Doug, thank you.
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