Republican Mayra Flores won a special election for a heavily Latino Texas House seat on Tuesday, turning a historically blue seat red for the first time in over a century. While redistricting means that the seat will likely elect a Democrat in the fall, Flores' victory is the apex of a trend where Democratic performance has crumbled in the historically-blue Rio Grande Valley.
What is causing this trend? I'll dispense with one no doubt popular hot take -- the whole "Latinx" thing. No, it's not popular amongst the broader Latino community. But also, no, it's almost certainly not driving a major vote shift given how few Latino Americans have even heard of the term.
That said, something is clearly in the air. It seems evident that many Democrats just assumed that Trumpist rabble-rousing about immigration would permanently turn off the Latino community and send them (further) into the arms of the Democratic Party. That maybe led to some coasting, which is now coming back to bite Team Blue. But that still doesn't offer a positive explanation about what issue areas are driving the Latino vote today -- especially when it seems that the Republican Party's political extremism, and ties to White nationalism, is growing more pronounced.
Of course, one can fairly observe that "the Latino vote" is an amalgamation of several different political collectives who hardly share identical interests or perspectives. Mexican-Americans in the Rio Grande Valley have many differences from Puerto Rican voters in New York or Cuban-Americans in Miami. But even if we cast a more focused lens, concentrating on places like the Rio Grande Valley, I think the puzzle remains (and I'd also ask whether there is, right now, a substantial subsector of the Latino population which is currently moving in a more Democratic direction? If not, then it seems there is a problem here that is occurring across cohorts).
Likewise, it has long been known that many Latino Americans are socially more conservative than the median American Democrat. But that's always been true, raising a "why now" question. Is this a backlash against (perceived or real) excesses amongst progressives in socially liberal policy? I know everyone likes to blame "the Squad" for everything, and I think that's a temptation to be resisted, but at least it's a hypothesis that needs to be explored. Nonetheless, I doubt that's the only valid explanation on offer, and I'm interested in hearing others.