Donald Trump may be on his way to claiming the Republican presidential nomination, at least in part, by vowing to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the U.S., but many of those Mexicans may have quietly built a wall that will keep him out of the White House.
That wall is emerging in red, mostly rural states that are normally solid or likely Republican but that are now, according to polling averages on Real Clear Politics, either toss-ups or leaning.
Georgia, which was considered a likely Mitt Romney state before the 2012 election and did go for the Republican candidate, is now a toss-up. Arizona was leaning toward Romney in 2012; it’s now a toss-up. Mississippi has gone from solid Republican to leaning. South Carolina has gone from likely to leaning Republican, while even Texas has gone from solid to leaning.
And North Carolina continues to be a toss-up.
Of course, general-election polls at this point in the primary cycle almost always change. But what no one seems to be considering—amid all the noise about how Hillary Clinton, who is on track to become the Democratic presidential nominee, should broaden her appeal to white, working-class voters—is how this shift from reliably Republican to maybe Republican may reflect a widely unreported trend: that Latinos are migrating to rural and Southern states in unprecedented numbers.
If they are registering to vote with the same fervor with which Hispanics in California are registering, that can’t be good news for Trump and his wall.
Latinos, however, have been working on their wall at least for the past three decades.
In the 2008 book New Faces in New Places: The Changing Geography of American Immigration, Princeton sociology professor Douglas Massey wrote that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act—which, among other things, authorized an amnesty for undocumented workers who could prove continuous residence in the U.S. since 1982—prompted a massive wave of legalization.
That wave led many migrants who were heavily concentrated in the Southwestern states to emerge from the shadows to apply for agriculture jobs.
What happened was that the agriculture industries, as well as other low-wage, low-skill industries in traditional gateway states such as Texas and California, were suddenly overwhelmed with Latino workers who, because of the law, could come out of the shadows. So many came out of those shadows that some went to look for work in the less competitive, less crowded South.
Obviously, many stayed.
In Robbins, N.C., for example, Latinos now make up more than half of the 1,097 residents. In fact, Latinos, who in 2000 accounted for 4.7 percent of North Carolina’s population, now make up 8.39 percent of its population.
Which may explain why it remains a toss-up.
Then there’s Georgia.
According to the report “New Americans in Georgia,” Hispanics make up a growing share of the population and the electorate. The foreign-born share of residents increased from 2.7 percent in 1990 to 9.7 percent in 2013.
On top of that, 7.4 percent of all registered voters in Georgia are “new Americans,” which means that they are either Hispanic or Asian.
Which may be why it’s tossing now.
To be sure, there may be many reasons why so many rural red states—as well as the traditional gateway states of Arizona and Texas—are not in the solid-red category right now. Both Trump and Clinton are highly unpopular candidates, and the electoral map may be more a reflection of ambivalence than of passion or preference.
But one has to see that these immigration trends are playing some role here. And one would have to be blind not to get that a candidate like Trump, who has built most of his campaign around demonizing Hispanics as rapists and murderers and job stealers, is likely a catalyst in turning these states from bright red to pink, and from pink to gray.
In fact, the only two states that have been added to the 13 toss-ups so far, Arizona and Georgia, are states that were leaning or likely Republican in 2012. The other 11 were all toss-ups at this time.
And it’s tough not to see the irony in all this: that as Trump pledges to build a wall to cut Latinos off from opportunities, they have been three decades ahead of him in building their own wall to stop him in his march toward the ultimate opportunity: becoming president of the United States.
And in places that no one would ever have imagined.