Republican Mayra Flores made history on Tuesday, winning a South Texas congressional seat that had been occupied by Democrats for more than 100 years. The district, which is largely populated by Latinos on the southern border, went for President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
So, 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 the show to discuss the increasing shift of Latino voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP, and what this means for future elections.
We also cover these stories:
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- A group of conservative leaders writes a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke about ongoing violence against crisis pregnancy centers and churches.
Listen to the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below.
Doug Blair: My guest today is Cesar Ybarra, vice president of Policy at FreedomWorks. Cesar, welcome back to the show.
Cesar Ybarra: Great to be back at The Heritage Foundation.
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 back in the 2020 election. So, how did we get here? How did this shift happen?
Ybarra: Yeah, I think this speaks to Ronald Reagan’s message of Hispanics are Republican, they just don’t know it yet. And I think since then, 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, right? We have high-rising inflation, the border is in a state of disaster.
… 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? The Democrats did not have a plan to get that fixed, which is how Mayra Flores was able to promote her message of what she was for, and she got across the finish line with 51%.
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 a profile on 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 came to America when she was 6 years old, through the legal way. Grew up in South Texas.
Her husband is a Border Patrol agent, so she has some skin in the game when it comes to how our Border Patrol agents are being treated by this administration. She has some skin in the game in living in a border town, in a border community where her constituents are living the day-to-day flaws of the border insecurity that is being perpetuated by the Biden administration.
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. Those three things are super conservative.
And again, I was talking to some of my friends today who were sending me stories about Mayra Flores. 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. And she spread that message, and I think she speaks on behalf of all Hispanics when they talk about God, family, 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 more as conservative than as Republican or Democrat.
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. Are we seeing this race as a one-time, a one-off, or are we seeing this pattern emerge in other elections?
Ybarra: Yeah. I mean, 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. Hopefully we can 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 does that look like in the sort of aftermath of this election? How does this election impact that 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.
With the national environment of how politics are, we still believe that there may be a shot for Mayra Flores to pull off the big upset, but I think we just cannot get complacent and we need to double down and go harder than we did in this past race.
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.
If you look at what the [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. Are there any other lessons that they took from this?
Ybarra: That our policy platform is resonating and that our policy is right. I think we just got to double down on it. We don’t need to shy away. We’ve got to realize that these folks are conservative. …
When you have trust and when you are a true believer, you have more conviction in how your message penetrates more with these communities. 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. And this is what happened with Mayra Flores.
Blair: It seems like, in Mayra Flores’ case, going hard on conservative principles does make sense. Is that a sort of across-the-board rule? As the left will always say, sort of, these minority groups will vote as a monolith. Is that the case, that we can sort of say, generally speaking, Latinos tend to vote for more conservative, unapologetically so, candidates?
Ybarra: I wouldn’t say it’s monolithic, because look at California. I mean, 40% Hispanic and they vote like libs. It is what it is, 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. Because you have to remember, California has produced two Republican presidents, [Richard] Nixon and [Ronald] Reagan. Imagine if we can 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 you voted for. You voted for taxes, you voted for all these things that Gov. [Gavin] Newsom was doing, now you get to live with them. You can do something about it. 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 have to start going community by community, because people down in Doral, in Miami, are going to be completely different than people out in San Diego, California, or in the San Fernando Valley by the Los Angeles area. 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.
You retweeted something from Christina Pushaw, who does comms for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. She said, “Mayra Flores’ husband is serving our country as a Border Patrol officer. Border Patrol is a major employer in South Texas. Most U.S. Border Patrol agents are Hispanic. Democrats in the Biden administration have attacked these brave men and women relentlessly. 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.
So yeah, I mean, 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 know who they have forgotten 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.
So, Democrats are more concerned with Hispanics who are here illegally than with voters and 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 is everything. As I mentioned, the most recent polling done in that district shows that 38% believe, or mostly believe, that the border and immigration issues were at the top of mind, followed by inflation.
Now, inflation is crushing everyone. Now, when immigration and border security is above that, you know it’s bad. And why is it 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 a reason.
Yeah, I mean, the border and immigration issue really plays a big part for people down in South Texas, 100%.
Blair: You mentioned that Vicente Gonzalez is really fuming at Democratic leadership for losing this election. How are they framing this loss? Are they framing it as that they screwed up or are they saying that it was the racist Republican? How are they framing it?
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 at some of the ads, the negative ads that the Pelosi super PAC was running against Mayra Flores, 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 what? 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 have to promote how good our policies are, not how bad their policies are.
Again, this has to be a positive message because, generally speaking, Hispanics nationally favor Democrat politicians, but they favor conservative policies. Let’s focus on the positive.
Blair: Speaking of messaging and things that seem to pop up a lot when we talk about this particular race, a lot of outlets have noted that Flores is a Mexican-born 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. Because the only people that can be immigrants and in Congress have to be Democrats. That’s not the case, and Mayra Flores is breaking through that.
So this is the exciting part, and this is what we should be celebrating. 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 no, yeah. 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.
So, this is when the real work begins to ensure that what she campaigned on is turned into good votes.
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 does the GOP keep this momentum going?
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. We have to go to the unfriendly neighborhoods, as they say.
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: A long time from now.
Ybarra: A long time from now, but you get my point. You get my point, so yeah. 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: Possible to lose the battle, but to win the war.
Ybarra: That’s exactly right.
Blair: OK. That was Cesar Ybarra, vice president of policy at FreedomWorks. Cesar, thank you so much for your time.
Ybarra: Thank you, Doug.
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