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The Future Of The GOP In Texas


A year ago, Democrats thought Texas would finally turn blue. Demographics seemed to be on their side with more younger, Latino voters coming of age. And yet, despite record turnout in 2020, it did not happen. Texas went for Donald Trump. Democrats didn't win any new congressional seats, and they failed to flip the state House. A new report from Texas Democrats looked at what happened. And it says one big reason - the pandemic and a failure to allow volunteers to canvass in person. This wasn't a problem for Texas Republicans, but how long can they hold on to the state? Joining me now is Artemio Muniz, chairman of the Federation of Hispanic Republicans in Texas.

Welcome to the program.

ARTEMIO MUNIZ: Hey, Lulu. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is a pleasure to have you. So what, in your view, did the GOP do right in 2020 in Texas?

MUNIZ: Well, what the GOP did do right was they did target a small group of Hispanic conservatives that were already friendly to the party. And it did have face-to-face contact at places like the DMV, stores. And this was something that was in plans since a year before the election. So they did the basics of politicking in the United States. But we have a long way to go on the Republican side, and that's - we have to go further than what we're doing currently. We got to go back to the days of Bush and compassionate conservatism to have a shot at keeping Texas red.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, tell me about what you think they should be doing. I mean, about two-thirds of Latinos do support Democrats in Texas. How concerned are you about the next election?

MUNIZ: So first off, the Republicans need to - in Texas - look at the harsh truth. There's a false narrative going around that we did well in South Texas and we did better in Hispanic counties. Yes, that's true. We did do better in Starr County and other border counties. But these are a net gain of 17,000 votes. There are more people on my block in my neighborhood in urban Houston than that.

So we've got to look at the reality, and the reality is that there was a time in the Republican Party in Texas when George W. Bush - when he ran for president, he actually won El Paso by 600 votes. Can you imagine Republicans winning Beto O'Rourke's playground? I mean, that's huge. And we got to go back to those days. You've got to build relationships.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And especially with Latinos, right? I mean...

MUNIZ: Absolutely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...They respond to that more than perhaps other groups.

MUNIZ: The biggest challenge right now is to - how do we win the Hispanic vote? We also have to address an issue. And I think the Bernie Sanders campaign sort of figured it out through the work of Chuck Rocha, which - you know, who I tip my hat to because he did grassroots. He did tamaladas. But another thing - he went after what George W. Bush went after, which is the Hispanic vote of Mexican heritage, which represents almost 70% of the national Hispanic vote. It's a sleeping giant. It's spread across Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, even California and now Texas.

So we do have a lot of the Tejano vote that did come through this election for Trump. But for us to survive and grow as a majority, we've got to go after that first-generation Mexican American vote that - every month, according to some reports, we have 50,000 new voters coming of voting age. And most of those kids are going to be first-generation Americans who have a negative experience of the Republican Party due to immigration. So we've got to go back to the days of Reagan and Bush on immigration and do real face-to-face outreach.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, I should say, Tejano, of course - Texas and Mexican - it's the particular descriptor for that group. But you have in the past thought that Trumpism was a problem for the party. He is now out of office. What is your feeling now when there is this great debate within the Republican Party and Donald Trump still seems to be at the center of how the party just defines itself?

MUNIZ: Well, I think for Texas, we do have sort of a big question to answer. Will the Trump brand remain, and can you actually use the brand to win the Hispanic vote? I think some people will tell you that they've proven through that 17,000-vote gain that they think Trump is the answer or the brand - right? - that type of rhetoric and messaging, especially on immigration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because Latino support for Trump across the country grew in 2020, and that was pushed by Latino men in particular.

MUNIZ: Absolutely. And you can't - we can't deny that, right? But the thing is, I've been on campaigns for gubernatorial candidates for the Republican side, and I've been in meetings where it was said that we would not target Dallas and Houston Hispanic voters because they're quote-unquote "a different kind" of Hispanic voter. That's disappointing to me because, again, I like candidates who believe in winning everybody they can and they believe what W. Bush said, which is that conservative principles do not stop at the Rio Grande. I agree with that. I want to win a majority. I want to have a presidential candidate that carries the brand from the top to the bottom ticket.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who in the party right now do you think embodies that, if anyone?

MUNIZ: I think there's one person to watch in Texas. I think George P. Bush, our Texas land commissioner, is the one candidate that can be that bridge-builder between those that supported Trump and those that are sort of in my camp that are like, well, we need a new home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's obviously Jeb Bush's son, yes?

MUNIZ: Correct. And I think George P. Bush gets it, and he has the right messaging. When you have that combination, that's a powerful opportunity to make inroads into the Hispanic community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Artemio Muniz. He's the chairman of the Federation of Hispanic Republicans in Texas.

Thank you very much.

MUNIZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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