A grassroots group of conservative activists plans to set up tables outside grocery stores in Stanton on Saturday to kick off a pilot program called “Basta,” aimed at getting more Latinos to register and vote Republican in upcoming elections.
Drawing their name from the Spanish word for “enough,” which has long served as a rallying cry for Latino activists, “Basta” leader Ron Flores of Huntington Beach said he wants to dispel the belief that Latinos don’t turn out for elections — and that they’re a lost cause for the GOP.
“They do vote, but why didn’t they vote for us? Because we don’t go out into the community. We don’t speak Spanish. We ignore them.”
A day earlier, and a couple miles to the south, leaders from the local, state and national Republican party gathered to open their first field office for the 2022 cycle in the heart of Little Saigon.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speaks during the opening of an Asian Pacific American Community Center in Westminster, CA on Friday, June 25, 2021. The center serves as a field office for the 2022 election cycle. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Halena Ly takes a photo with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel during the opening of an Asian Pacific American Community Center in Westminster, CA on Friday, June 25, 2021. The center serves as a field office for the 2022 election cycle. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
People gather outside during the opening of an Asian Pacific American Community Center in Westminster, CA on Friday, June 25, 2021. The center serves as a field office for the 2022 election cycle. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel listens as California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Patterson speaks to the media during the opening of an Asian Pacific American Community Center in Westminster, CA on Friday, June 25, 2021. The center serves as a field office for the 2022 election cycle. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do speaks during the opening of an Asian Pacific American Community Center in Westminster, CA on Friday, June 25, 2021. The center serves as a field office for the 2022 election cycle. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
“This is the biggest investment we’ve ever made into this community,” Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, told the largely Vietnamese American crowd who gathered to celebrate the office opening in a shopping center along Brookhurst Street.
“Why are we investing in communities that haven’t traditionally identified as Republican?” McDaniel continued. “Because our values align.”
Both efforts are part of a growing push by Republicans to reach nonwhite voters in Orange County, and beyond, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
A majority of nearly all nonwhite voting blocs have long leaned reliably to the left. After the 2018 midterms, when Democrats swept away Republicans in much of Orange County and elsewhere, former California Republican Party Chair Jim Brulte warned his colleagues that their party needed to reach diverse voters. If not, he said, the party risked getting sidelined nationally the same way Republicans have been exiled in California, where diverse support for Democrats has given the party every state elected office and a supermajority in the state legislature.
“It seems that some of that advice is now being translated into action,” said Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at University of La Verne.
Of course, spending time and money is one thing — winning over voters is something else, particularly for a party that remains tightly aligned with former President Donald Trump, who has pushed anti-immigrant policies and openly courted white nationalists.
While grassroots GOP activists are taking a page from Democrats’ playbook with their ground game, and the national party is making a multi-million dollar investment into its field program starting with the Westminster location, it’s an open question if their messaging will connect with enough nonwhite voters to help swing elections to the GOP.
Small numbers, big wins?
Though the data shows local Republicans are facing an uphill battle with nonwhite voters, Godwin notes the party doesn’t necessarily need to win majorities of non-whites to win elections. Instead, the party needs to convince a few thousand people, in the case of some local congressional races — or a few dozen, in the case of some local races — to cross the line.
After years of Republicans being “complacent” in Orange County, Flores said they’re now ready to put in the hard work to win over diverse voters.
“It’s like a cave full of gold and we just have to go in there and get it.”
Election data shows that few places in Orange County saw a bigger political flip in 2020, from Democrat to Republican, than a dense neighborhood along Brookhurst Street in Westminster that swung heavily for Trump.
That’s precisely where the RNC chose to open its first field office this cycle. The office, which the GOP is calling an Asian Pacific American Community Center, will be used to recruit volunteers and train them to reach voters.
“This is the key to winning back this diverse state,” Andrew Do, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, said Friday during the center’s opening celebration.
Do said he rejects “the false narrative perpetuated by the media that this is a party of exclusion.” Instead, he said the fact that the RNC opened its field office in Little Saigon shows “the Republican Party is committed to listening and engaging with diverse communities.”
Republicans have drawn some criticism for using charged language, or “dog whistles,” to reach Asian American voters in particular. During Friday’s ceremony, McDaniel referenced Vietnamese people fleeing Communism before quickly pivoting to talk about the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, who she said “took away your freedoms” during the pandemic.
Such language hit home for?Thinh Nguyen, 64, of Westminster, who said he was very happy to see the RNC center opening in his adopted hometown.
Nguyen said he hadn’t voted in any election since he immigrated to the United States in 1975, after helping to fight Communist forces in his native country of Vietnam. Then Trump came on the scene.
While Nguyen said he doesn’t always like the way Trump speaks, he liked what the former president was trying to do in the Middle East and in regards to China. So he voted for Republicans during his first time at the ballot box in the midterm elections in 2018, and voted for Trump this past fall.
“I’m not into the left or the right,” he said. “I’m into right and wrong.”
Nguyen said his own kids are Democrats, though he said they don’t talk politics because he doesn’t want it to cause division in the family.
Younger voters in all ethnic groups — and second- and third-generation immigrants in particular — are far more likely to align with Democrats than their parents and grandparents were. So, even if the GOP succeeds at getting inactive voters such as Nguyen to support Republicans in upcoming elections, those gains could be short-lived if they don’t also make inroads with young nonwhite voters.
During Friday’s ceremony, McDaniel gave an award to Brandon Nguyen, a 16-year-old from Santa Ana who she said knocked on more than 1,000 doors and made more than 100,000 phone calls to support Rep. Michelle Steel’s candidacy in the 2020 election.
Brandon Nguyen said his parents are not politically engaged. But last year, he said he grew frustrated with how the pandemic was politicized. He started reading articles and watching YouTube videos, and decided Republican ideals were a fit for him, specifically citing his support for police and “freedom of opportunity.”
While Brandon Nguyen said his politics do occasionally cause some tension with friends, who lean largely to the left, he also said he’s excited to volunteer with the GOP again in 2022 and to try to convince more young people of all backgrounds to consider voting Republican.
Activists target Latino voters
Flores said he spent months trying to get official support from local Republicans without success. Now, he said, he isn’t waiting any longer to launch a program aimed at reaching fellow Latino voters.
He kicked off his efforts Tuesday night during a GOP meeting at an American Legion post in Santa Ana. There, some 80 people listened to him and other conservative speakers talk about their opposition to sex education in schools and transgender rights, their support for school choice, and about economic factors such as rising gas prices.
“I got them yelling ‘basta, basta, basta!’ which means ‘enough is enough is enough,’” said Flores, who was born in Orange County after his grandfather migrated from Mexico in the 1920s. “We have started a movement.”
Hengameh Abraham, candidate for Costa Mesa city council, applauds during a meeting of the California Republican Assembly in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Ron Flores, leader of a new grassroots movement called Basta, explains the strategy for reaching more Latino voters in Orange County at a meeting in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Jesse Suave, left, leads the Pledge of Allegiance as the meeting of the local California Republican Assembly begins in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Johnny Morgan, president of the California Republican Assembly, addresses a meeting of the local CRA in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Jesse Suave takes a photo during a meeting of the California Republican Assembly in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Ron Flores, right foreground, leader of a new grassroots group called Basta, listens with a crowd of about 80 people attending a local GOP meeting in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
An attendee at the California Republican Assembly takes a photo in Santa Ana on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)
Latino turnout surged in 2020, mirroring a trend seen in all voting groups. And while data shows Republicans didn’t win a majority of Latino voters in any state, pockets of Latino communities, such as Florida’s Cuban American population, voted for Trump at higher rates in 2020 than they did in 2016. “Latinos for Trump” groups also popped up locally before the election, and Flores said he volunteered for the former president’s campaign.
Godwin — who said Trump remains deeply unpopular in California — noted that Latino voters aren’t monolithic or entrenched as liberals.
In the wake of the pandemic, when Latinos were hit particularly hard by the virus itself and by the policies meant to slow the virus, Godwin said some polls have shown California Latinos as being less “pro-Gavin Newsom and being more moderate, even while leaning Democratic.”
That said, Republicans have major hurdles to overcome in reaching Latino voters. The GOP remains aligned with Trump, who pushed anti-immigrant policies as president after famously launching his presidential campaign, in 2015, with his views on Mexican immigration: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Flores brushed aside such comments, saying he doesn’t believe Trump meant that to apply them to most immigrants.
Still, he said Basta won’t be using Trump’s name or logos when it goes out into Latino communities.
He plans to launch Basta with a pilot program in Stanton. There, Flores said, 80% of city’s nearly 6,000 Latinos registered to vote cast ballots in the fall — with 61% voting for Democrats, 21% for independents and just 13% for Republicans. He said those percentages are remarkably similar across Orange County.
“Because of Stanton’s small size, it is ideal for testing out the methods we are going to use for reaching out to the Hispanic communities throughout Orange County going forward,” Flores said.
“We’re going to try this new approach. We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to document it. And we’re going to take it across the county,” he added.
Along with Saturday’s planned voter registration drives, Flores said his group is bringing a folklorico Mexican dance team to the California Republican Assembly’s annual picnic July 17 in Stanton. They’re also organizing a town hall next month to discuss education. He’s consulting with three Latino candidates who plan to run for local office in 2022.
And he’s planning Basta soccer tournaments and boxing matches that he hopes will help them connect with young people and their parents.
Flores previously coached a youth football team in Huntington Beach. He said he got into coaching, in part, because he’s convinced that community centers and youth leagues in diverse areas “indoctrinate” kids with Democratic principles.
After Trump was elected in 2016, he said he asked the kids on his football team how they were feeling. He said they told him they were sad because “racists” elected a man who “hates us.”
“I stood up and I said to them, ‘I voted for him. Does that mean I’m a pig? Does that mean I hate you?’” Flores recalled, pausing as his emotions got the better of him.
“We have to stop that,” Flores said. “We have to do better at telling them both sides of the story.”
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